Thanks to Roomba, your personal data will be hoovered up – literally!

Roomba
Roomba 980 image credit: iRobot.com

This is where the Internet of Silly Things (IoST) becomes dangerous.  No doubt, you have all heard about those wonderful robotic vacuum cleaners like Roomba that skirt around the house picking up every bit of dirt while you are at work, sleeping or away on vacation.

The latest iterations even have Wi-Fi connectivity and on-board intelligent visual navigation (otherwise known as cameras), supposedly to help them spot and remember obstacles that may be in their path.  Wrong.  That IoT connectivity and viewing capability is there not only to map your home but to allow that vital information to be collected (or hoovered up as Gizmodo put it) and sold on to any willing bidder.

Can you imagine the wealth of information this could yield to any marketer knowing the state or condition of your furniture, carpets and interior decorations? You could start getting targeted messages saying things like “Take a look around you, isn’t it time you bought a new lounge suite?” or “Isn’t that carpet getting a bit shabby?”

Even more frightening, what if that innocuous little device happens to catch you in less than flattering casual attire or catches you in the act, whatever act that may be. The mind boggles.

But wait, there’s more!

iRobot Corp, the self-proclaimed leader in delivering robotic technology-based solutions, announced that the Roomba 980 vacuum cleaning robot – its most capable and best cleaning robotic vacuum to date – combines adaptive navigation with visual localization, cloud-connected app control, and increased cleaning power on carpets, helping people to keep cleaner floors throughout the entire home at the push of a button. But they forgot to mention the spying bit.

Gizmodo’s initial review of the Roomba concentrated on its good features:

The 980 can figure out what kind of surface it’s on at any given time—and if it’s a carpet or rug, it kicks into high gear, automatically doubling the power it expends. Optical and acoustic sensors help it sniff out places on the ground where there’s a particularly large pile of dirt, as well. It’ll take a hands-on review to know for sure whether it can avoid objects, or remember where stuff in your house is.

In a Reuters report, Colin Angle, chief executive of Roomba maker iRobot Corp speaking about smart home lighting, thermostats and security cameras already on the market, said they were “dumb when it comes to understanding their physical environment”:

He thinks the mapping technology currently guiding top-end Roomba models could change that and is basing the company’s strategy on it.

Angle also 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 (Amazon, Apple and Google) in the next couple of years.

OK, here’s the pitch. The vacuum cleaner maps the house while it cleans, and that mapping helps Alexa adjust its speakers for optimum sound output. Yeah, right! I’m guessing it’s a whole lot of other “dirt” this thing is picking up that would be of far greater value to the Big Three.

And how long before hackers cotton on to that data storehouse and sell the information to nasty people like burglars who will not only have the layout of the joint but also figure out when you are not at home?

In espousing the capabilities of this device and his bold plans to make money from your data that it collects, Mr Angle may have delivered the product’s death knell. But then again, similar warnings on the dangers of connected home devices haven’t stopped early adopters from jumping in.

Will the home device market suffer the same fate as wearables after consumers realized they were simply personal data collectors open to being preyed on by over-eager marketers?

I, for one, will not be buying a Roomba. It has been added to the same “privacy please” list as the Amazon Echo.

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