After decades By creating war machines and home cleaning appliances, iRobot has agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $ 1.7 billion, according to a joint statement by the two companies. If the deal goes through, Amazon will have access to one more source of personal information: Roomb owners’ home interior maps.
iRobot started building robots for the US military, but 20 years ago added consumer vacuum cleaners. (This completely spun off the defense business in 2016). smart home appliances and AI assistants.
Combined with other recent acquisition targets, Amazon could end up looking at a comprehensive look at what is happening in people’s homes. The e-commerce giant acquired Ring in 2018, and the Wi-Fi router manufacturer Eero a year later. Speakers and other devices with AI Alexa can now control thousands of smart home devices, including Roomba vacuum cleaners. And Amazon plans to acquire the One Medical primary care network for $ 3.49 billion in a total cash transaction that, if approved, will store millions of health data.
“People usually think of Amazon as an online retailer, but actually Amazon is a watchdog. This is the core of her business model, and this is what drives its monopoly and profit, ”says Evan Greer, director of the digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future. “Amazon wants its hands everywhere, and the acquisition of a company that basically relies on mapping the inside of people’s homes feels like a natural extension of the surveillance coverage Amazon already has.”
Amazon declined to answer questions about how iRobot’s data is being used, but a spokesman for the company Alexandra Miller made a statement claiming that the company manages customer information well. “Customer trust is something we’ve worked hard for – and work hard to maintain – every day,” the statement said.
Amazon has experience developing or acquiring technologies that make data privacy concerns anxious. In 2020, Amazon launched a home security drone, and last month, Ring, a company that has partnered with thousands of police and fire departments, admitted sharing home videos with law enforcement without a warrant. Greer says that if law enforcement or governments demand access, so much data about people in the hands of one company creates the risk that they will be a single point of failure for democracy and human rights.
The company already has its own Astro home robot, which it launched last fall. At the time, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, David Limp, said the company launched the robot without a defined use case. In an interview with WIRED in June, Amazon vice president of consumer robotics, Ken Washington, said he was initially focused on home monitoring and security.
Astro is currently available by invitation only. Washington has refused to make Astro counts available in people’s homes today or when Astro becomes generally available. Since its launch, Amazon has pushed out an Astro update that allows people to add rooms to the home map without having to remap the entire home.
Amazon’s home robots are currently unable to coordinate across multiple units, but Washington said stair climbing and multi-floor coordination between Astros is part of the product development plan. Rather than hoping Astro will attract a mass audience, the iRobot acquisition will ensure Amazon’s immediate presence of home maps on a massive scale.
Too early to say so, but the deal could be scrutinized by the Federal Trade Commission. Privacy advocates have already spoken out in their opposition, and FTC chairman Lina Khan has been deeply critical of Big Tech acquisitions. A five-member commission solidified most of the 3-2 Democrats in May. And Khan herself in particular rose to prominence after Yale Legal Journal article that redesigned antitrust law – with Amazon as the focus.
Even without introducing iRobot into the story, there are several aspects of people’s lives that Amazon has no access to. It already tracks intimate details like what people eat, buy, watch, read, and what prescription medications they’re taking. Soon he can also get to know every inch of their homes.