Why Might Amazon Pay $1.7 Billion for AI iRobot Roomba Vacuum Technology?

Amazon seeks to acquire iRobot, known best for its Roomba autonomous AI vacuum. As U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decides whether to investigate the deal, a U.K. antitrust regulator has approved Amazon acquisition, stating the deal “would not lead to competition concerns in the U.K.” according to Tech Crunch.

A Robot Vacuum Deal Causes Competition and Privacy Concerns

Should this deal create competition or privacy concerns?

How worrisome could a vacuum be?

Let’s look at the big picture. Amazon collects unprecedented massive amounts of data from millions of households every day through

  • Consumer purchases of books, videos, clothing, groceries, dog food, pharmaceutical, household, automotive, travel, and countless other categories on Amazon.com around the world.
  • Amazon owns Whole Foods grocery stores which integrate with Amazon.com and Prime membership.
  • Amazon owns Audible.com – the leading audio book platform.
  • Amazon owns Kindle – the leading eBook platform.
  • Amazon owns its own publishing arm from which self-published books are printed, with control over retail pricing and discounting of books sold on its website.
  • Amazon owns Ring, the video doorbell company that records comings and goings of household members and visitors.
  • Amazon acquired Blink security camera company and cameras now integrate with Alexa.
  • Amazon has code access to consumer garages and gated entries for deliveries.
  • Amazon owns Alexa, the virtual assistant always listening to conversation ready to respond to commands connecting it to security video cameras, security systems, lights, appliances, and other household devices.
  • Amazon Pharmacy was created after acquiring PillPack as an online alternative to the corner drugstore.
  • In 2020 Amazon acquired self-driving autonomous vehicle startup Zoox.
  • In 2022 Amazon acquired MGM Studios.
  • Amazon acquired a 15% stake in the YES Network (Yankee Entertainment and Sports Network)
  • In 2023 Amazon acquired One Medical, gaining access to over 200 brick-and-mortar physician offices with approximately 815,000 members.
  • Announced this week (June 2023), Amazon is in talks with mobile wireless carriers to include free phone service to its Prime customers.

There are dozens more Amazon acquisitions.

Data is what makes iRobot Roomba vacuum or any AI valuable

Data collected by autonomous vacuum AI is valuable. These seemingly mindless disc-shaped droids are considered a life-saver for busy households and those with disabilities. These robots are designed to do much more than clean floors. The data they collect is more valuable than users might imagine – especially when connected to other data sources (like the mountains of data Amazon has).

More iOT Creates Security Vulnerability for Home Networks

The Internet of Things (iOT) relies on consumer private WiFi networks to collect data, operate their systems, and update device software. Devices such as baby monitors have been hacked to gain access to people’s most precious spaces, their children’s bedrooms. Robot vacuums do not currently have microphones, however they reportedly can be remotely hacked to be used as microphones. Consumer Reports recently explored some of the other potential vulnerabilities robot vacuums may pose to personal privacy and security.

Having gained so much data, does one more Amazon acquisition really matter?

What Data Does an AI Robot Vacuum Collect?

The addition to mapping the floor – creating a diagram of each room and the furniture in it, the data collected from a robot vacuum may include usage patterns, such as which rooms are used more frequently (by usage) which enables them to target for sale of products and services, and economic data the company can use to fuel growth its many branches of business.

How large is your home?

What size are the rooms?

Where are entries, appliances, fixtures, and other Amazon devices located?

Where do you spend the most time?

A robot seems innocent enough. Once you realize the vacuum is a robot living in your home, collecting and sharing data about where you live and how you live.

The full picture Amazon can paint around any consumer is not only enough to sell you goods and services with a distinct advantage over competitors – it creates profiles that brands and governments can only dream of collecting and using.

Robot vacuums that run without connecting to WiFi do not present the same security/data risks.

Amazon has an army of robots. Over 520,000 in 2022 according to Tech Crunch. In 2021 robots named “Ernie” and “Bert” were deployed to assist warehouse workers with moving objects. Add some of Amazon’s other technologies along with the ability to vacuum the floor, and Amazon might be get close to replicating a modern day version of the robot housekeeper “Rosie” from The Jetsons.

I love technology. I might even be intrigued by a robot that can clean the house while I work or sleep. I just never want to feel as though they are spies, sending my data to who-knows-where to be used by who-knows-who. What about you?