Ever since Edward Snowden flipped the world upside down and let us all know that big brother was indeed watching, the larger discussion about our privacy has been up for debate. Many feel if we aren’t hiding anything it shouldn’t matter if the government is listening to our phone calls or watching our emails. But others disagree, especially those with children, wondering if it’s safe to allow strangers to have complete access to us.


Well, for those of us who have stayed out of the conversation, we might have just been thrust into it: is seems the higher-end version of the Roomba vacuum, called iRobot, collects data as it cleans. 1 The ability to identify the location of our walls and furniture helps the vacuum to avoid crashing into the couch, but it also creates a map of our home. A map the company is considering selling to Amazon, Apple or Google. 2

Can you imagine what one of those companies might do with that type of info?

An iRobot spokesman claims the company is actually being altruistic:

“When we think about ‘what is supposed to happen’ when I enter a room, everything depends on the room at a foundational level knowing what is in it.

In order to ‘do the right thing’ when you say ‘turn on the lights,’ the room must know what lights it has to turn on. Same thing for music, TV, heat, blinds, the stove, coffee machines, fans, gaming consoles, smart picture frames or robot pets.”3

But what if, say, you don’t currently have an armchair for iRobot to maneuver around…assume you’ll start getting ads for one. But it might not stop there. Once it knows the layout of your home, what happens if you sell your house? Do the people that buy it after you want companies to know the layout of THEIR home? Not to mention the fact that the more a device like this learns about you the more it knows about you- and your habits. It’s not even out of the realm of possibility that it could come to know your income level and the brands you prefer.


When pressed, iRobot said they were committed to customer privacy, noting that consumers could use a Roomba without connecting it to the internet and even opt out of sending “map data to the cloud through a switch in the mobile app.”4 (For now?)

Honestly, none of this should surprise us, everything is connected now. However, we need to be wise and careful what we connect to. For our safety and the safety of our families.

Sources and References

  1. New York Times, July 25, 2017.
  2. New York Times, July 25, 2017.
  3. New York Times, July 25, 2017.
  4. New York Times, July 25, 2017.