Amazon has grown into one of the largest companies on Earth by dominating online retail, and now it’s using that power to become a staple of our digital lives with products like Alexa, Twitch, and Ring. The company’s latest acquisition could bridge the gap between the digital and real worlds. Amazon is buying iRobot, maker of the iconic Roomba robot vacuums. This deal could give Amazon a huge advantage in its quest to know everything about its customers, but it’s going to suck for customers who care about privacy. And not in the way a vacuum is supposed to suck.
Roombas have been around so long that the brand has become almost synonymous with robot vacuums. There are plenty of other vacuums out there, but there might not be after Amazon gets done. It’s paying $1.7 billion for the company, and it could sink a lot more money into the operation by selling the hardware at a loss. It wouldn’t be the first time Amazon has used its deep pockets to get hardware in people’s homes and reduce the power of competitors. Amazon regularly uses seller data to undercut the companies using its platform to move products.
A robot vacuum monopoly is not good for the smart home space, but that’s actually of secondary importance. Many are calling this Amazon’s most dangerous acquisition because of the huge amount of data robots like a Roomba can collect about your home. In order to efficiently clean your space, many modern vacuums have lidar sensors and cameras to create a map of your home. They can learn your floor plan, where you put furniture, and even what your floors are made of.
1. Hello. Amazon today announced it would pay $1.7 billion to acquire iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robotic vacuum.
It may be the most dangerous, threatening acquisition in the company's history. A thread.
— ron knox (@ronmknox) August 5, 2022
And there could be some really interesting benefits to those who have decided to live an Amazon life. For example, the company’s Eero mesh routers could use location and Wi-Fi strength data culled from robot vacuums to create a wireless coverage map and tweak router performance. Alexa-powered Echo devices could also have awareness about which rooms are where to refine commands and media playback.
However, should you trust Amazon with all that data? iRobot could give Amazon the unparalleled ability to connect your shopping habits and smart home activities with the real world. In an Amazon-Roomba world, the layout and status of your home suddenly become important marketing signals. Amazon could find this data invaluable to target ads and product suggestions like never before. There is definitely a creepy factor here, and people might not realize the kind of access they are giving Amazon when they buy a cleaning robot. The Federal Trade Commission has not yet approved the deal, but there’s little reason to expect they will stand in the way. Like it or not, Amazon is probably about to have robotic, internet-connected sensor platforms in millions of homes.
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