Home Social gathering Amazon acquires Roomba maker iRobot, sparking data issues

Amazon acquires Roomba maker iRobot, sparking data issues


Source: Richard B. Levine / Sipa USA / AAP Image

Amazon has agreed to acquire autonomous vacuum cleaner maker iRobot for $1.7 billion ($2.45 billion), which industry watchers say will add household mapping capabilities to the Amazon’s already sizable data collection arsenal.

Global juggernaut Amazon revealed the plan on Friday, declaring its intention to launch an all-cash deal for the company that first marketed the Roomba in 2002.

The lure of Roomba — disc-shaped vacuum cleaners capable of cleaning floors without human intervention — has changed the way people clean their homes, says Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices.

“I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent ways that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable,” he said in a statement.

The deal is still subject to US regulatory and shareholder approval.

But if it does materialize, the company behind the $1,800 household helpers will join other major acquisitions like Australia’s One Medical and Zoox in Amazon’s growing business portfolio.

Beyond Amazon’s potential to capitalize on the appetite for next-generation cleaning solutions, critics say the acquisition will amplify Amazon’s data collection capabilities.

While Amazon gets shopping data from its core marketplace platform, entertainment insights from its streaming services, and endless data points from its voice-activated assistant Alexa, iRobot’s purchase means the company could soon figure out how its users’ homes are laid out.

Indeed, Amazon referenced the advanced technology that powers the latest Roomba units, saying, “iRobot’s product portfolio includes advanced technologies and concepts in cleaning, mapping and navigation.”

And iRobot’s chief executive has previously touted the value of mapping to the broader smart home industry, of which Amazon is a major player.

“There’s a whole ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can provide once you have a rich map of the house that the user has given permission to share,” he said. Reuters in 2017.

Considering the data points collected by Roomba, Ron Knox, a researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — a group championing independent businesses and criticizing monopoly power — described the takeover as one of the most significant of Amazon’s story.

“From a privacy perspective, this is a nightmare,” Knox wrote on social media.

“From an antitrust perspective, this is one of the strongest data collection companies in the world acquiring another large and intrusive dataset.”

Similar concerns were expressed by Evan Greer, president of Fight for the Future, who said Wired the acquisition of a seemingly innocuous vacuum cleaner company is “a natural extension of the surveillance reach that Amazon already has.”

However, in a separate statement provided to media, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Customer trust is something we have worked hard to earn – and work hard to keep – every day.”