Your Robot Vacuum Cleaner Will Soon Collect And Sell Data About You And Your Home

from the what-could-go-wrong dept

So while the internet-connected age has delivered untold innovation, it has also been a total shitshow for privacy and security. The internet-of-broken-things can’t seem to go a week without reports of another major privacy screw up, and even your kid’s Barbie is now collecting snippets of data that can be sold to the highest bidder. And while throwing a WiFi chipset into something isn’t such a bad idea, companies are so eager to boost revenues that actually securing these products — or respecting customers’ privacy — has repeatedly been shown to be a distant afterthought.

The latest hot topic of conversation on this front is iRobot, makers of robot-vacuum Roomba. iRobot CEO Colin Angle turned a few heads this week after he told Reuters that the company is considering selling all of the data the company’s robot collects about the size and layout of your home, to companies like Apple and Google:

“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,” said Angle. That vision has its fans, from investors to the likes of Amazon, Apple and Alphabet, who are all pushing artificially intelligent voice assistants as smart home interfaces… Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years.

On it’s surface, that’s not necessarily the end of the world. Especially in the cell phone era when every step you take is collected, tracked, monetized and sold by cellular companies, app makers, and every advertising and metric company in between. But there’s an awful lot of data these robots collect that you may not particularly want shared, and our proud tradition of overlong, convoluted terms of service traditionally won’t make that clear. And as Gizmodo was quick to point out, Roomba’s existing privacy policy is phrased in just such a way as to suggest your privacy preferences are irrelevant:

“[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.”

In other words, this mouse print implies that there are oodles of situations in which your consent won’t be necessary to sell private data about yourself and your home, even if by law Roomba may be required to inform you (generally and with a lot of marketing hype, of course) this is happening. That’s assuming consumers even care, since most of us simply click “accept” on the TOS without giving much of a damn either way, quickly understanding that we’re probably being screwed in some fashion, but having neither the time nor patience to understand how.

But this bidirectional apathy becomes a problem cumulatively. Customers aren’t reading rights-eroding TOS because they’re too long, while every device in the home is now tracking, storing and monetizing your every heartbeat — from children’s toys that track your kids’ babble, to smart home electric meters that tell companies and their marketing partners when you’re at work or sleeping. Top that off with the paper mache grade security embedded in most of these products, and you begin to understand why the smart security analysts are warning people that a very big and rather nasty dumpster fire is just over the horizon.

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Companies: irobot

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Comments on “Your Robot Vacuum Cleaner Will Soon Collect And Sell Data About You And Your Home”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


I don’t own one of these (and won’t) but I think owners should be worried about the advent of when the machine starts to analyse the contents and volume of whatever detritus is picked up. iRobot might then become eligible for that program of payoffs LEO’s use over at Best Buy, along with the data sales (and maybe extortion?).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: phones home

… this iRobot/Roomba980 CEO’s attitude is troubling, but at least use of that Roomba WiFi phone home feature is optional to users.

the real privacy vulnerability is in the cell phone app used to (optionally) control the Roomba.

people install all kinds of cell phone apps (software) without giving it a second thought — but many apps are intrusive spyware stealing personal info from your phone. for example, I recently considered installing the apps for a couple of major restaurant chains that I frequent — but both wanted full access to my personal “contacts” list on the phone as a mandatory condition/permission of the app. No Thanks — I’ll order off the paper menu and pay for the meal the old fashioned way.

Daydream says:

Excuse me, my personal information is copyrighted.

And your robot only has a license to view my personal information, not to share or redistribute it to advertisers or other companies.

If you want to use information about my home and personal behaviour, you contact me and you can buy a license for your personal use.

I am quite sick of big companies thinking they can get away with pirating the ‘little guy’s’ work.
If you continue to fail to respect my copyright, I will follow the precedent set by the WTO in America vs Antigua 200X, and we’ll see how much you like YOUR stuff being pirated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Excuse me, my personal information is copyrighted.

Alternatively, one could re program the Roomba to spell out all sorts of things in its daily cleaning routine that would of course then be visible in the stolen .. err I mean collected data. I would be great if they then publish same on their website – lolz

Nurlip (profile) says:

Just dont buy the single irobot model that has internet connectivity and you’re fine… Mine has no mapping tech or internet connection (880) so im not worried. And since there are now dozens of competing brands at a fraction of the price point of irobot, i wasnt considering buying another anyways. This guy just pulled the release on his own golden parachute.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And buy a TV that doesn’t have ‘SMART’ connectivity. There are only a fe… oh. Nevermind. At least you can still get a new car that doesn’t phone home every time it… oh. Nevermind.

Weird. It’s like tech that does 10X more for the manufacturer than it does for the consumer seems to become ubiquitous over time. And once that data’s out, you can’t unring a tube of toothpaste.

(On an optimistic note, maybe GOG will start doing home appliances & electronics…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: in which way?

Irrespective of any mandatory connectivity required, we’ll just have to convince Jerry Pournelle to release the code he developed to intercept dongle request from software all those years ago.

The we just put the required code on our routers/modems and use that to MITM the data requests into a black hole so nothing leaves and nothing comes back. All apps on phones should be able to use your own wifi to connect to machine without heading outside the borders of your domain.

Calling all Hackers, let’s get cracking on this problem and solve this now to be ahead of the commercial interests that want to screw over our lives.

DannyB (profile) says:

Small Steps

You lose your privacy in small steps. We become a police state in small steps. It’s a long slide. A gradient. Not a sudden overnight thing — at least not sudden until it has first slid a long way down the slippery slope to the edge of the cliff.

What possible uses is the roomba mapping the interior of your home?
* Useful for the roomba to more efficiently vacuum in the future.
* Useful for the cloud to know when you’ve moved your furniture around.
* Useful for Amazon Echo to build a better acoustics model for improved listening accuracy, especially when you are whispering in your own home
* Useful for SWAT teams
* Useful for ICE to know where you might hide
* Useful for burglars
* Useful for your ISP to more efficiently move about your home in the middle of the night when they enter to harvest your and your family’s vital organs — as per the service agreement that you signed — unless your mobile phone company has already harvested them first.

Small steps. Once you’ve accepted this. [x] I agree!
Then the next step is to equip the roving roomba with a camera. Purely for harmless information collecting purposes. The cloud wants to know if you have pets, how many and what kind. The cloud would like to rank homes according to how messy they are. But it can be sold as a feature to allow you remote access to the roving roomba camera from anywhere! For your security. [x] I agree! Equipped with the optional voice option along with the camera, a roomba would make remote child care easier than ever before! [x] I agree!

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Small Steps

I’ll give a shot at a condensed version: Useful to determine your economic value, so that everyone knows exactly how much they can drain out of you and what they can get away with doing to you that you can’t afford to fight back against.

(‘Hi. We’re with your ISP, and we’ve come for your liver.’ The rest of the reference is left to the reader as an exercise.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Kids and TOS

Customers aren’t reading rights-eroding TOS because they’re too long, while every device in the home is now tracking, storing and monetizing your every heartbeat — from children’s toys that track your kids’ babble

It doesn’t mean anything when a minor "accepts" the TOS, does it? And apart from that there are stricter privacy laws dealing with minors.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

… Who would even want to buy this data, and what good would it do them?

I mean, unlike most data, layouts of your house seem pretty darn useless for advertisers.

And buying the data so other smart devices you buy can use it really isn’t a good idea. If some other devices will need the data to function, what happens if someone you have no data on buys your product?

Seriously, I’m a freaking software developer, and even I think this just stupid and all downsides for the Vacuum Cleaner company due to the lost profits this negative press will cause them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

… Who would even want to buy this data, and what good would it do them?

Advertisers could use number of bedrooms as a proxy for number of children, and house size as a proxy for wealth (or propensity to spend money, which is just as good). If the data’s good enough to detect bare concrete floors, home contractors could send you advertisements for basement-finishing; or floor/carpet replacement if it detects something in poor condition. People with small bathrooms might want tall vertical shelving. Is your cat leaving litter all over the place? There’s probably a product for that. Does your Roomba fall down the stairs? Maybe your child will too, unless you buy a childproof gate. Clutter everywhere? How about hiring an interior designer?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

downsides for the Vacuum Cleaner company due to the lost profits this negative press will cause them

Does that really happen though? It seems that privacy-invasive features and weak privacy policies become "normal" quickly. Wouldn’t companies reinstate privacy if they were actually losing business? Microsoft has hardly backed down on the invasive Windows 10 features for example.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Off the top of my head, other cleaning products and home electronics vendors and setup techs. (“We see you’ve got room for a big screen TV and a surround sound system…”) Furniture stores seem like an obvious choice too (“You seem to have a twin bed; would you like a queen?”). Cleaning and mapping data would include other information that would be useful for targeted ads, like whether you own pets; the size of your house is a useful indicator of how many people live there; and they can probably get a good feel for what hours you work based on when you run it.

And that’s before we get into details that can be gleaned by transferring data — your router configuration, your ISP, your connection speed, etc. (Though I suppose for data about your ISP and connection speed to be useful for advertising, you’d have to live in a place with more than one ISP.)

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