The robotic spy in your home

  • 28 July 2017
  • NormanL
The robotic spy in your home

Usually, we're concerned with the government spying on citizens in violation of constitutional guarantees to privacy and due process. But what about private companies who sell you products that spy on you in your own home -- with your consent? That's what the maker of the Roomba robotic vaccum cleaner has been doing for years. And the company plans to sell the information it has gathered about your home (including a detailed map of your house) to third party vendors:

Roomba robots gather all kinds of data—from room dimensions and furniture position to distances between different objects placed in your room—that could help next-generation IoT devices to build a true smart home.

Angle believes mapping data could be used by other smart home devices—such as thermostats, lighting, air conditioner, personal assistant, and security cameras—to become smarter.

According to iRobot CEO Colin Angle, "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 also told the publication that he is planning to push the company toward a broader vision of the smart home, and in the near future iRobot could sell your floor data with the business like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google—but not without its users' consent.

Until now, your home data is private and is not being shared with any third-party company.

The manufacturer sees all sorts of fantastic benefits, all of which involve you purchasing even more robotic gadets and automated systems:

The data could help tech companies like Amazon, Apple and Google to improve their smart home speakers to control the vacuum and make use of the acoustics to improve audio performance throughout the home.

Dimensional knowledge of the rooms could help Smart Air-conditioners to control airflow throughout the rooms.

Home mapping data could also help Apple’s ARKit developers to create new apps for room management and interior design.

Or, as so too often happens with valuable data, it could possibly end up in the hands of less high minded people. Which brings us to the privacy concerns about such data collection:

According to its terms of service, the users already give the company permission to share their data with third party vendors and subsidiaries, and on government requests.

"We may share your information...Third party vendors, affiliates, and other service providers that perform services on our behalf, solely in order to carry out their work for us, which may include identifying and serving targeted advertisements, providing e-commerce services, content or service fulfillment, billing, web site operation, payment processing and authorization, customer service, or providing analytics services," the company's privacy policy reads.

Given these terms, it is possible for the company to sell its customers information in bulk with companies without notifying its users. And it is obvious that more you want your technology to be smart, more private data you are offering to companies.

If you have a device that falls under the vast umbrella of the "internet of things," you should be aware that they are prime targets for hackers. Not all such devices get hacked, of course. But they are increasingly used as tools in massive attacks of online systems.

But if you don't mind the risk, and don't care about the trade offs, then enjoy your toys. Just remember they are working for someone else the entire time.