Earlier this week iRobot CEO Colin Angle shared with Reuters that the data collected by iRobot devices (such as Roomba) over the years may eventually be shared with third parties. Even though iRobot’s robotic vacuum cleaners are not as smart as R2-D2, some of the high-end models, such as the $900 Roomba 980 robotic vacuum cleaner, are known to contain sophisticated technology that maps and records information about users’ house floors. There is nothing wrong in having a smart device which does the vacuuming instead of you, but what raises some questions is the fact that the information these devices are collecting may one day be shared with the world.
In the interview with Reuters, Colin Angle mentioned that “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.” What we believe he has in mind is the fact that technology giants, as well as the government, might be able to find the data collected by iRobot devices beneficial.
What happens with the information collected by Roomba?
For example, such information can help marketers determine what items are “missing” from your household. If the floor map shows there is no couch in the living room, you may end up seeing a whole lot of seating furniture advertisements. You may also get flooded with toddler related products should the algorithm integrated into your smart vacuum cleaner determines you have a young fella running around your house frantically displacing stuff. There are various reasons the government may want to have access to such information too. When such info starts being passed around in most cases it becomes more accessible, which raises concerns as it may be used by hackers and potential crime doers. The more you share, the easier it will be for cybercriminals to find holes in the system and know more about you, your behavior and your belongings. This is a bit scary, isn’t it?
And before you toss the hardworking poor little Roomba away and replace it with an entirely secure broom, we wanted to highlight the fact that in the very same interview Angle confirmed that as of now, iRobot had not formed any plans to sell data but added the company could extract value from those agreements by connecting for free with as many companies as possible to make the device more useful in the home.
After all the controversy iRobot has recently released an official statement:
“iRobot does not sell data customer data. Our customers always come first. We will never violate our customer’s trust by selling or misusing customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products. Right now, the data Roomba collects enables it to effectively clean the home and provides customers with information about cleaning performance. iRobot believes that in the future, this information could provide even more value for our customers by enabling the smart home and the devices within it to work better, but always with their explicit consent.”
So, do we have to worry about the safety of a vacuum cleaner?
Of course, we have to! Whether it is a vacuum cleaner, a car, or a TV … Everything that is connected can be a risk. All these devices collect a lot of information about us, our lives and our privacy. If that falls into bad hands, we should be very worried. It would be good to know if the data collected in the “roombas” travel safely and if the vacuum cleaners have security systems capable of dealing with infections or attacks as nowadays is not unreasonable to think that someone may want to take advantage of the information they contain (for example, a detailed map of your house, where are the jewels, the safe …).
For example, when it comes to personal computers or mobile phones, users can often discover a malware infection by noting that their device does not work as it should or because they have an antivirus. But in the case of vacuum cleaners or other devices connected to the Internet, without comprehensive protection, how can we know? At the moment there is no way to know if they are infected or not and can go unnoticed for long periods of time.
“Manufacturers should at least, eliminate unnecessary network services and include ways to control security and easily or automatically fix security vulnerabilities in their products. Consumers should take the same security measures with their computers or mobile phones as with all the devices they have at home connected to the Internet. Comprehensive protection systems are the best option to safeguard the security of all the devices we have at home. “Adds Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security.
There is so much technology around you that privacy no longer means what it used to, to improve their services, some companies such as your wireless carrier, for example, collect data about your behavior. Such monitoring not only helps businesses sell you more stuff but also in some cases keep you safe and improve your lives. The information companies gather from their customer base help R&D teams develop better and more appealing products. The more companies know about you, the easier it will be for them to provide you with solutions that improve your life. The only problem is when such information ends up in the hands of the wrong people, this is why it is important to always have a second layer of security – tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google are not insured against cyber theft and the real victims after successful cyber-attacks are usually the average people.
So briefly, there is nothing wrong with sharing the maps with third parties, as long as the process is well regulated and there is transparency in how such sensitive information will be handled and secured.