Your iRobot could be the reason why you’re getting ads on Facebook or Google for an oddly specific armchair or rug.
The CEO of iRobot has recently come under fire for allegations of spying the average American household. These allegations came about when a falsely quoted line from Reuters reached the public; this quote supposedly coming from CEO Colin Angel has been deemed false. Colin Angel shunned this false quote and dubbed it as fake news.
There are skeptics in the tech industry that believes Colin Angel is lying, and the iRobot’s Roombas are secretly selling data. During the Net Neutrality passing in January 2017 by the FCC, iRobot was scarily quiet during the process. While thousands of different tech companies throughout the world joined arms in protest towards the ruling, iRobot didn’t make a sound. People became suspicious as of why iRobot didn’t speak out against the ruling that could potentially affect the way Americans use the internet. However, one well-respected organization named OpenMedia voiced their opinion in a tweet “Your friendly little Roomba could soon become a creepy little spy,” this tweet led to more speculation towards the iRobot CEO.
The OpenMedia -and the inaccurate but scary- Reuters articles led to worldwide skepticism and controversy late in July. This speculation and outcry have led people to the question; could their beloved Roombas be secretly spying and blueprinting their house? While there isn’t any solid evidence towards iRobot selling data, The New York Times has confirmed that the Reuters quote is false, however, the public isn’t completely sold. There has been controversy as of how do we know for sure that companies are selling our data but lying publicly. A couple dozen Roomba owners -possibly paranoid- has stated that they’ve been getting some oddly specific ads targeted towards their house. Though these Roomba owners might just be paranoid -in more ways than one- their paranoia might be justified.
The Roomba vacuum autonomously sweeps through your house with sensors, cameras, and your wi-fi. After a few uses, the Roomba will map your house to improve accuracy and efficiency. This ‘mapping’ is the issue for many Net Neutrality supporters. The Roomba records and stores the data of your house into its system and this data could be bought or shared to marketers for a hefty price.
The New York Times interviewed Jamie Lee Willams lawyer of an astounding digital rights group; he broke down how iRobot could take a huge profit from mapping out your house. He stated the video the Roomba produces can easily detect your median income and household lifestyle example: if you have kids or live with grandparents. It can also detect your personal hobbies and what you cherish the most like what sports you play or religion. It can discover your culture, ethnical background, and values. This can be used by marketers to understand psychographics (marketing technique that maps out your personality) that otherwise they would’ve been forced to guess. The Roomba is no different from having a camera in your house watching your every move 24/7. This is valuable information for any business or organization that makes most of their money from ads. As of August 2017, Jamie Lee Willams assured us that spying on citizens via the Internet is still illegal. Our privacy is protected by Net Neutrality, however, with the abandonment of Net Neutrality, this false report from Reuters could easily become true.
There are still ways to go in the current debate over internet privacy. iRobot’s Roombas isn’t the only tech company that is in the midst of being accused of spying. The falsely quoted or what Colin Angel calls it ‘misinterpreted’ Reuters article is still up and gaining more views daily. While it might not be true, it still is a great reminder of the dangerous reality that could be Net Neutrality.