Advocates blast Amazon over $1.7B iRobot deal that fuels ‘pervasive surveillance’ in the home
Privacy advocates dismissed Amazon’s recently announced purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot for fueling “ubiquitous surveillance” when the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into the $1.7 billion buyout.
The tech giant’s planned acquisition of the maker of Roomba vacuum cleaners gives it access to the device’s operating system, which uses a front-facing camera to create full-length maps of the insides of people’s homes — all of which can then be fed into the existing vast amount of data on hundreds of millions of consumers.
“There is no private space more than the house. But with this acquisition, Amazon will gain access to extremely intimate acts in our most private spaces that are not available through other means or to other competitors,” more than 20 privacy and civil rights groups said in a letter to the FTC on Friday.
“The information collected by iRobot’s devices goes beyond home floor plans to include highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers’ homes and residents’ schedules and lifestyles,” the letter reads, shared by Digital Rights non-profit organization Fight for the Future, states. “Giving Amazon full access to this kind of private information through this acquisition harms consumers.”
Privacy advocates dismissed Amazon’s recently announced purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot for fueling “ubiquitous surveillance” as the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into the $1.7 billion buyout
“The information collected by iRobot’s devices goes beyond home floor plans to include highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers’ homes and the schedules and lifestyles of the residents,” the letter, shared by the nun, reads. -profit organization Fight for the Future.
The Seattle-based company’s Alexa speaker accounts for about 70% of the total market for smart home devices — and researchers predict that the total value of that market will reach $537 billion by 2030. About a quarter of American households have at least one Alexa-powered device, according to media reports.
Led by FTC Chair Linda Khan, above, the agency has taken a more aggressive view of Big Tech in general
The advocates’ letter reads: “The Alexa operating system is home to an entire network of Amazon-owned Internet-connected home products, including speakers, thermostats, appliances, wearables, video doorbells, and a household robot similar to iRobot’s Roomba.” .’
The FTC — led by technology critic Linda Khan — has begun a review of Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot to determine whether it violates antitrust law. The two companies are bracing for a potentially lengthy and arduous investigation, people with knowledge of the probe told Politico.
The federal agency’s assessment is broad, including both competition between them and whether the deal will illegally increase Amazon’s market share in both the connected device market and the retail market in general, Politico said.
One concern for regulators is how Amazon’s buyout of the robot vacuum cleaner could also give the retail giant an unfair advantage over many other companies.
For example, Amazon could have an advantage with someone who wants to set up work from the home office – simply by using detailed home maps created by iRobot – then suggesting that they buy certain items.
Speaking to The Verge in May, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said the device’s AI-powered operating system would provide Roombas and other devices with a “cloud-based home concept.”
Amazon’s purchase of One Medical, a membership-based primary care provider with US locations, is also under investigation by the FTC.
Speaking to The Verge in May, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said the device’s AI-powered operating system would provide Roombas and other devices with a “cloud-based home understanding.”
He explained that under the system, an air purifier from Aeris — a company that iRobot bought last year — would recognize people in the kitchen and then turn on in the living room, where the noise wouldn’t disturb anyone.
“The idea is an operating system that isn’t just about activating the robot’s functions, but doing so in harmony with what’s happening in the house,” Angle says.
The robot vacuums already respond to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice commands and can understand directions to clean certain rooms.
But with the new AI-powered operating system, he said: “We can know where things are, so that if you screw in a light bulb, you turn on an air purifier, you plug in a toaster, you install a speaker, the location of those devices is instantly understandable.” ‘