Amazon Maps Inside Millions of Homes With iRobot Deal, iRobot HAS AGREED TO BE ACQUIRED BY AMAZON FOR THE PRICE OF $1.7 BILLION, ACCORDING TO A JOINT STATEMENT RELEASED BY BOTH COMPANIES, AFTER DECADES SPENT CREATING WAR MACHINES AND HOME CLEANING If the transaction is finalised, Amazon will have access to yet another source of personally identifiable information, namely the floor plans of the houses of people who possess Roombas.
iRobot got its start by manufacturing robots for the United States military. Twenty years ago, the company expanded its product line to include consumer vacuums. (The defence business was completely separated out in the year 2016). These Roombas accomplish their tasks in part by utilising sensors to create maps of the residences in which they operate. In an interview with Reuters in 2017, iRobot CEO Colin Angle hinted that the company might someday share the data with other tech companies building smart home products and artificial intelligence assistants.
When combined with other recent purchase targets, Amazon may end up with a comprehensive view of what is occurring inside the homes of individuals. In 2018, the e-commerce behemoth purchased the video doorbell startup Ring, and in 2019, it purchased the Wi-Fi router manufacturer Eero. Speakers and other devices equipped with the artificial intelligence assistant Alexa now have the ability to command tens of thousands of smart home devices, including Roombas. And Amazon is planning to acquire primary care network One Medical in an all-cash transaction worth $3.49 billion. If this acquisition goes through, Amazon will have access to the medical records of millions of people.
People have a tendency to think of Amazon as a firm that sells goods online; nevertheless, Amazon is actually a company that specialises in monitoring. “That is the core of its business model, and that is what drives its monopoly power and profit,” says Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit organisation Fight for the Future, which advocates for digital rights. “That is what drives its monopoly power and profit.” “Amazon wants to have its hands everywhere,” and the acquisition of a company that is largely founded on mapping the inside of people’s houses feels like a natural expansion of the surveillance reach that Amazon already has. “Amazon wants to have its hands everywhere,”
Amazon did not provide a response to queries regarding how the firm planned to use the data obtained from iRobot, but a spokesperson for the company, Alexandra Miller, did provide a statement in which the company stated it had been a responsible steward of consumer information. According to the statement, “Customer trust is something that we have worked hard to gain and continue to work hard to preserve every single day.”
Amazon has a history of developing or acquiring technology that causes unease among individuals who are concerned about the privacy of their data. Ring, a company that has formed partnerships with thousands of police and fire departments, admitted to sharing home video footage with law enforcement without a warrant just last month. In 2020, Amazon introduced a home security drone, and just last month, Ring admitted to sharing home video footage with law enforcement. Greer believes that the fact that so much information about individuals is held by a single firm creates the potential for that company to become a single point of failure for democracy and human rights in the event that law enforcement or governments seek access.
The business already has its own own house robot called Astro, which was released in the fall of last year. David Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon, stated at the time that the business debuted the robot without having a defined use case for it. In an interview with WIRED that took place in June, Ken Washington, vice president of consumer robotics at Amazon, stated that the primary focus will initially be on home monitoring and security.
At this time, access to Astro can only be gained through invitation. The Washington administration does not disclose how many households currently have Astro or when the system will be made available to the entire public. Since its initial release, Amazon has made available an upgrade for Astro that enables users to add rooms to a home map without first having to remap the entire residence.
Amazon house robots are unable to coordinate activity between many units at this time; however, according to Washington, ascending stairs and coordinating amongst Astros located on different floors is on the product development roadmap. The acquisition of iRobot would provide Amazon with an instant home mapping presence on a massive scale, which would be preferable to the company’s current strategy of hoping that Astro will be adopted by a large audience.
It is still too early to know, but it is possible that the Federal Trade Commission will investigate the transaction. Privacy groups have already been outspoken in their criticism, and the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, has been extremely critical of acquisitions made by big tech giants. In May, the five-person commission reached a majority split of 3-2 in favour of the Democrats. And Khan herself rose to attention after publishing an article in the Yale Law Journal that rethought antitrust law with Amazon serving as the primary focus of the discussion.
There are very few elements of people’s lives that Amazon does not have access to, and this is true even if iRobot is not incorporated into the equation. It already monitors private aspects of people’s lives, including as what they drink, buy, watch, and read, as well as the prescription medications they use. It is possible that it may soon know every inch of their dwellings as well.