(NewsNation) — Amazon has acquired the vacuum cleaner maker iRobot for $1.7 billion, scooping up another company to add to its collection of smart home appliances amid broader concerns from privacy advocates about the tech giant’s power and ability to gain deeper insights into consumers’ lives.
iRobot sells its products worldwide and is most famous for the circular-shaped Roomba vacuum, which would join voice assistant Alexa, the Astro robot, Ring security cameras and others in the list of smart home features Amazon offers.
The acquisition also adds to Amazon’s vast store of consumer data — leading tech experts to raise the alarm that the tech giant could use this business deal to vacuum up personal information from inside users’ homes.
So, is Amazon’s purchase just another way to spy on consumers?
Advanced Roomba vacuums have internal mapping technology that could benefit Amazon. The technology allows the devices to learn the floor plan of a user’s home. Devices can remember up to 10 floor plans “so users can carry their robot to another floor or a separate home, where the robot will recognize its location and clean as instructed,” press releases by iRobot say. Some models have low-resolution cameras to avoid obstacles and aid in mapping.
“Now they can actually know the layout of your home and products that are in your home to target you for further purchases for really anything — any consumer goods,” said Rick Jordan, CEO and founder of Reachout Technology.
Amazon hasn’t had much success with household robots, but the iRobot acquisition and the company’s strong market reputation provide a “massive foothold in the consumer robot market” that could help Amazon replicate the success of its Echo line of smart speakers, said Lian Jye Su, a robotics industry analyst for ABI Research.
“If I was looking at this from Amazon’s perspective of wanting to provide a complete, connected home it’s a good ambitious goal in and of itself, it’s fairly ethical,” Jordan said. “However, there has to be a lot of transparency to consumers as far as what data they’re collecting and what they’re going to use it for.”
Amazon’s Alexa can already warm users’ homes, control the lights, keep track of schedules and add vacuuming to its list.
“This tech makes life easier for lazier people. I would include myself in that because of certain tasks I don’t like doing,” Jordan said. “That’s fine, but how do we give up so much privacy just to obtain a little more convenience?”
Here’s a glimpse at the data Roombas have already collected on users:
- Billing information
- Mailing address
- Social media accounts, if you signed up through one
- Any data from other devices you’ve connected to, including your smartphone
If you want to better protect yourself from targeted ads, check your privacy settings on your Amazon account. There, you can limit Amazon’s permission to track.
These privacy concerns come after the tech giant was previously in hot water for listening in through its devices like Alexa. Last month, Amazon admitted to providing Ring, the company’s security-surveillance doorbell, footage to law enforcement 11 times this year without the user’s permission.