I'm a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
It’s nearly official. Amazon just linked a deal this month to acquire iRobot, the smart vacuum company best known for their Roomba line. It’s a generous $1.7bn deal, but what is Amazon really getting out of it? We all know that Roombas are sold on their website (we’ve done plenty of reviews linking to them, like with our Best Roombas review), but there’s got to be more, right?
Truth is that it’s not just smart vacuums. Amazon is already known for their smart home tech, such as Alexa and Ring security, and we believe the acquisitions will just keep coming.
By now, we think it’s pretty obvious that tech companies make the bulk of their money via collecting your data and monetizing it. For example, everyone knows that Google is free because they collect your data and use it to target advertisements to you.
However, it seems that some people are in the dark with Amazon. They sell products, so do they really need data? Yes, they need it and are collecting as much as they can. Alexa and other voice-command products are capable of recording and storing your conversations (though only a small percentage are ever listened to). While Amazon promises to safeguard data, it’s definitely being used to target you with advertisements.
That being said, why acquire iRobot? What can a Roomba possibly give them? Most modern Roombas have gotten much smarter about mapping your home. Unlike the traditional bump navigation where they would bump along the walls until your home was clean, they can now map your home with a camera to know the exact layout.
While no one knows if or how Amazon will use this data, it’s just a new layer of information they’ll have about you. It might be better to go with a smart vacuum that collects less data, like this ones you’ll see with our Tineco Floor One S3 vs S5 review.
Stop Roomba From Spying
If you want to stop your smart home from spying on you, then it’s best to check all the settings, permissions, and features you have. While we’re primarily talking about Roomba here, this really goes for all smart home tech.
Truth is that you likely gave your smart home stuff a ton of permission to look through your phone, devices, and to collect data on you. If you’re like most people, then you just kept clicking the “Accept” button blindly so you can get onto using the tech.
If you’re worried about being spied on and want to limit or stop this, then go back through the permissions and see what you can change. Some smart home tech also works without the internet. For example, many Roombas work without an internet connection. You might lose out on some features of course, but this can limit how much data is collected.
But you also have to weigh the pros and cons of convenience. Your Roomba can likely work without the internet, but then you’re losing out on navigation features, scheduling through the app, and more. That’s annoying. Is it annoying enough that you’re willing to have your data collected though?
Hacking and Security Updates
One thing we want to say as well is that it’s not always about spying. Hackers can get into smart home devices and get your information as well. We don’t know how much they can really gather from Roombas, nor do we have any concrete information about Roombas being hacked, but we do have something important to say here.
If you’re buying smart home tech from a smaller company, then truth is that they rarely have the support or IT team needed to quickly roll out security patches. You’ll get updates here and there, but they tend to be infrequent.
Larger companies like Roomba and Amazon have the workforce needed to quickly make and release patches. If you keep your Roomba updated, whether the Amazon deal is finalized or not, then there is a fairly low chance of you being hacked. It’s not impossible of course, but having the latest update does make it harder.
Love your Roomba and the superior navigation, but want it to collect less data? There is a very simple, low-tech fix that you can apply in seconds. Just cover the camera. Maybe it needs the camera while working and navigating, but it certainly doesn’t need it when charging.
Take a piece of tape (painter’s tape works best, plus it’s easiest to remove) and cover the camera. That prevents it from seeing anything until you remove the tape. If you have smart speakers, then you can cover them when not in use for a similar effect. This doesn’t stop data collection, but it minimizes it.
Lastly, we suggest going into the Settings and Preferences and seeing what data has been collected. Not only that, but most home tech companies (like Google) allow you to delete this data. This prevents it from sitting around and being used.
While it’s a struggle between convenience and giving up your information, you do have some power here and it’s best to use it.
Amazon is inches from purchasing iRobot and it seems like the deal will likely go through. While there’s no hard information to suggest that Amazon will scrape and collect data from Roombas, it’s something that Amazon is known for and it has tech experts worried. Consider updating your Roomba for the best security update, cover the camera when not in use, and review the permissions to make sure you’re OK with what’s being collected.