In 2015, the Roomba robotic vacuum received a major upgrade to its sensors, letting the robot build a map of the house or apartment it patrols for dirt. And now iRobot, the company behind the Roomba, could make a deal with Amazon, Apple, or Google within the next few years to sell those maps and other user data.
While iRobot CEO Colin Angle insists that providing this data to “the big three” could greatly improve a smart home’s ability to serve customers, this potential deal represents a major privacy concern for people who use the robotic vacuum to clean their home. While most people seem to have more or less come to terms with the fact that their browsing history and online activity is being sold, data collected by a Roomba includes camera footage and updated maps of their personal space.
Angle told Reuters that he felt most people would opt into the services provided by integrating Roomba data with other smart home devices, which could include targeted ads from Amazon or orchestrating indoor lights to be most compatible with the natural light coming in through windows.
Not that consumers would necessarily have a choice in the matter. Gizmodo took a look at Roomba’s terms of service and revealed that iRobot can sell data to other companies or the government whenever any or all of their company is purchased — just like the potential deals that have Angle so excited in the first place.
Roomba develops its maps using cameras and advanced sensors to understand the layout of the room or building it’s cleaning. Previously, robotic vacuums used infrared sensors just to detect obstacles in their immediate paths, with no permanent sense of the space they were cleaning. Going back to that older model of robotic vacuum would sidestep the privacy concerns the Roomba now presents, but it would also mean taking a step back in vacuum quality and navigation.