Amazon to acquire iRobot

Amazon to acquire iRobot, maker of Roomba smart autonomous vacuum for US $1.9 billion, but are there privacy implications?

Amazon has done a deal to acquire smart vacuum company iRobot, who makes the Roomba, for US $1.7B, or nearly $25B Aussie dollars, so the question is… why?

Although iRobot has promised not to sell your data, they don’t need to – they, and their soon-to-be new owners – have plenty of uses for it themselves. 

Amazon sells everything you can imagine, and having the floor plan of your home could be useful in knowing the type of furniture you have, how often you change that furniture, how often carpets get dirty, even what type of dirt is being sucked up, depending on the sensors installed. 

Some of iRobot’s vacuums already offer mapping technology, so it’s not something Amazon will add, but it is something they will presumably enhance. 

Some of this data is being collected so it can be analysed in the future, rather than being actively exploited to sell you stuff right now, but data is being collected everywhere, by virtually everyone – even Apple, for its own uses, despite its privacy stance. 

As privacy advocates have stated, this data can be used to manipulate and exploit you, and as anyone knows, once you’ve crossed the line with some kind of behaviour you know you shouldn’t be doing, crossing that line quickly stops becoming any kind of barrier. 

Your toilet of the future will be analysing stool and urine samples, our smart speakers went through a scandal recently where recordings were being made when the “wake word” was thought by the device to be heard, even though there was no explicit call to action – which has resulted in smart speaker companies letting you turn off the sharing of your voice recordings. 

My Mum has an Apple Watch I gave her, not only so she has a phone with her at all times, but also in case she falls and can’t get up, whereupon 000 will be called and an ambulance sent out. 

However, Siri on her watch mishears the “Hey Siri” command all the time, it’s quite comical to hear her watch say “I’m not sure I got that” or something similar. 

Amazon and Google have video doorbells that they share the recordings thereof when asked by police, and even modern TVs have a feature called “ACR” or “automatic content recognition” that tells the TV makers which shows your are watching!

Some TV makers make more money from this data than they do from selling the TVs!

Our internet connected devices are also always at risk of being hacked into – just overnight, Apple launched iOS and iPadOS 15.6.1, and the same with MacOS 12.5 to 12.5.1, and the main thing they fix are security vulnerabilities that hackers could use to break into those systems. 

So, how can we protect ourselves? By turning so-called features like ACR on our TVs, delving deeply into the privacy settings of our devices, our social media apps, our computers and more to TURN OFF data sharing. 

Based on searches made at searching engines and e-commerce sites, there was a story a few years ago that those services could guess a woman was pregnant before she did. 

There was even one lady who did all she could to hide the fact she was pregnant from search engines and e-commerce sites so she was not bombarded with ads for maternity and baby products and services.

If you don’t know how to do this, ask a trusted relative to help, learn about it yourself through YouTube videos and other online guides, or get help from a commercial service.

Alex Zaharov-Reutt