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Roombas have been busy mapping our homes, and now that data could be shared

Roombas have been busy mapping our homes, and now that data could be shared


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Roomba 790

Over the past couple of years, Roombas haven’t just been picking up dust and chauffeuring cats around, they’ve also been mapping the layout of your home. Now, Colin Angle, the chief executive of Roomba maker iRobot, has said he wants to share the data from these maps in order to improve the future of smart home technology.

In 2015, iRobot introduced the Roomba 980, its first Wi-Fi-connected model. This meant that while a Roomba was quietly whirring around your floors, it was also collecting spatial data using visual localization, sensors, and more. This data helps the Roomba figure out how your home is laid out and adjust cleaning patterns on-the-fly to deal with things like moved furniture. But Angle thinks it could be put to use by more devices.

"There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," Angle told Reuters. Angle says that this data won’t be shared without permission, but Reuters says he thinks “most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions.”

iRobot’s CEO thinks “most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions”

According to Reuters, iRobot hopes to reach a deal to share these maps with Google, Apple, or Amazon within the next couple of years. Roomba is already compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home — Apple’s HomePod speaker is also on the way — and all could greatly benefit from the data within these home maps as they vie to offer the smart home assistant of choice.

Roomba owners can opt out of cloud-sharing functions within the iRobot Home app, but technically, the iRobot terms of service and privacy policy say they have the right to share your personal information. The information is buried, laden in legal language, and, as Gizmodo points out, includes this clause which could allow iRobot to sell the information without consent:

[We may share your personal information with] other parties in connection with any company transaction, such as a merger, sale of all or a portion of company assets or shares, reorganization, financing, change of control or acquisition of all or a portion of our business by another company or third party or in the event of bankruptcy or related or similar proceeding.

Most don’t thoroughly comb over entire terms of service agreements and privacy policies before agreeing to use apps and products. While blame could easily be placed on the user, the power dynamic between service and consumer gives tech companies leverage to exploit their customers. This was recently demonstrated when the CEO of email service said he was “heartbroken” that users were upset it sold their data to Uber for an undisclosed fee. “Sure we have a Terms of Service Agreement and a plain-English Privacy Policy,” said the CEO in the apology post, “but the reality is most of us — myself included — don't take the time to thoroughly review them.”

Will people buy into iRobot’s vision of a smart home utopia and give up data maps of their home? Will that data actually be used to make home assistants work smarter for you, or just give them more advanced and targeted ways to sell you things? Perhaps the most important question is: do we ultimately value utility over privacy? It seems iRobot and its CEO are betting the answer to that is yes.

Correction July 28th, 5:27PM ET: The story has been corrected to reflect Reuters adjustment, replacing “sell maps” with “share maps.”