Product Design

Your Roomba's Got a Dirty Little Surprise

July 27, 2017

It’s hard not to love the Roomba, that charming "robovac" that shimmies through your home. A Roomba can dart around every domestic obstacle imaginable—trinkets on the floor, a child’s discarded toys, hulking coffee tables.

Every product that belongs to the Roomba 900 line is equipped with cameras that allow it to develop clear, vivid memories of your home. The more time you spend with your Roomba, the more familiar it becomes with your floor. How unsettling it is, then, to learn that iRobot, Roomba's manufacturer, may have plans to sell these maps to third-party companies.

Earlier this week, iRobot CEO Colin Angle told Reuters that he is hoping to make a deal to sell those maps to Amazon, Apple, or Google in the next few years. "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," he said.

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Here was a mere statement of intent that became cause for alarm, developing into a real PR fracas for iRobot. Angle's proclamation brought forth a number of privacy issues regarding consent and how that’s being communicated to consumers. The past few days have given rise to a real murderer's row of anxiety-inducing headlines, feeding a general climate of unease regarding how much of your data iRobot is harvesting and where that data's going.

It's prompted iRobot to go on the defense and offer tidy reassurances to consumers. “iRobot takes privacy and security of its customers very seriously,” Angle said to those who were seized by fear that other Silicon Valley companies now had maps of their homes. “We will always ask your permission to even store map data.”

Depending on how trustful a person you are, these consolations may not quite assuage your fears that your data can fall into the wrong hands. iRobot's Terms of Service are disconcertingly opaque, written in obtuse legalese that takes quite some time to decipher. I can only hope that, if iRobot does roll out such partnerships in the near future, the company makes these third-party agreements as explicit as possible for consumers. Either way, I’d remain alert. Put faith in your Dyson.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Matt July 27, 2017
Oh this is so disappointing. Imagine if some one hacked into the data, and sold the floor plans of your house to the highest bidding robber, who then knows where everything is in your house.
Whiteantlers July 27, 2017
What a sad century and a sadder world when even our cleaning devices are spying on us.

My cats do a better job at vacuuming than a Roomba does. They are annoying, noisy, ineffectual pieces of junk.