Amazon’s Roomba robot vacuum merger deal sparks privacy fears

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Amazon’s billion-dollar bid to merge with robot vacuum maker Roomba iRobot is another way for the company to get your personal information — which could include the floor plan of your homes, have warned critics.

The company said it would spend $3.9 billion ($5.55 billion) to acquire primary care provider One Medical and $1.7 billion for its merger with iRobot, which recently launched a line Roomba that uses sensors to map and remember home layouts.

But how secure is our data with Amazon, and what does it do with it?

Amazon’s “intention” to enter our homes

“It acquires this large set of data that Roomba collects about people’s homes,” says Ron Knox of the anti-monopoly group Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“Its obvious intention, through all the other products it sells to consumers, is to be in your home.

“With privacy issues come anti-trust issues, because that buys market share.”

Amazon’s reach goes far beyond our homes.

Some estimates show that the retail giant controls about 38% of the US e-commerce market, allowing it to collect granular data on the shopping habits of millions of people around the world.

Echo devices account for about 70% of smart speaker sales in the United States.(Supplied: iRobot)

Meanwhile, its Echo devices, which connect to voice assistant Alexa, have dominated the U.S. smart speaker market, accounting for about 70% of sales, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates.

Ring, which Amazon bought in 2018 for $1 billion, monitors doorsteps and helps police track down crime, even when users may not know it.

And at select Amazon and Whole Foods stores, the company is testing palm-scanning technology that lets customers pay for items by storing biometric data in the cloud, sparking fears of possible data breaches, which Amazon has said. tried to appease.

“We treat your palm signature like other highly sensitive personal data and keep it secure using the best technical and physical security controls,” the company says on a website that provides information about the technology.

The retailer’s reach is ‘almost overwhelming’

Even consumers who actively avoid Amazon are still likely to have little say in how their employers power their computer networks, which Amazon — along with Google — has long dominated through its AWS cloud computing service.

“It’s hard to think of any other organization that has as many touchpoints as Amazon has with an individual,” says Ian Greenblatt, who leads technology research at data research and analytics firm JD Power.

“It’s almost overwhelming, and it’s hard to put your finger on it.”

And Amazon — like any business — aims to grow.

In recent years, the company has purchased Wi-Fi startup Eero and partnered with construction company Lennar to offer tech-powered homes.

With iRobot, it’ll get closer to the ultimate smart home – and, of course, more data.

As Amazon Grows, So Does It Know

Customers can choose not to let iRobot devices store a disposal of their home, depending on the vacuum.

But data privacy advocates worry the merger could be another way for Amazon to suck up information to embed in its other devices or use to target consumers with ads.

Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski denies that’s what the company wants to do.

“We do not use home cards for targeted advertising and have no intention of doing so,” she said.

But that’s unlikely to allay privacy fears.

Earlier this year, a group of academic researchers released a report that found voice data from Amazon’s Echo devices is being used to target ads to consumers, something the company has denied in the past.

Umar Iqbal, a postdoctoral student at the University of Washington who led the research, says he and his colleagues found Echo devices running third-party skills, which are like apps for Alexa, that communicate with advertisers.

a child holds an echo dot in outstretched hands
Amazon already has access to a lot of our data – and that will increase if these deals go through.(PA: Mike Stewart)

Ms Levandowski says consumers can opt out of receiving “interest-based” ads.

She also said Amazon does not share Alexa requests with ad networks.

Skills that collect personal information are required to post their privacy policies on a detail page in Amazon’s store, according to the company.

Researchers, however, found that only 2% of jurisdictions are clear about their data collection practices, and the vast majority don’t mention Alexa or Amazon at all.

For companies like Amazon, it’s not just about collecting data, says Kristen Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame.

“You can almost see them trying to paint a bigger picture of an individual,” says Ms Martin.

“It’s about the inferences that they’re able to draw about you specifically, and then compared you to other people.”

a ring doorbell installed on a siding house
Amazon bought Ring in 2018 for $1 billion.(PA: Jessica Hill)

For example, with the One Medical agreement, how will Amazon handle personal health data?

Should the deal go through, Levandowski says customers’ health information will be handled separately from all other Amazon businesses.

She adds that Amazon would not share personal health information outside of One Medical for the “purpose of advertising or marketing other Amazon products and services without clear customer permission.”

But Lucia Savage, chief privacy officer at chronic care provider Omada Health, says that doesn’t mean One Medical won’t be able to get data from other parts of Amazon’s business, which could help. to better profile its patients.

Information just has to flow one way, she says.

And the privacy concerns aren’t limited to Amazon.

Following Roe v Wade’s overturn, Google said it would automatically remove information about users who visit abortion clinics after pressure from Democratic lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Facebook owner Meta settled a class action lawsuit in February over its use of “cookies” about a decade ago that tracked users after they logged out of Facebook.

But unlike Meta and Google, which primarily focus on selling ads, Amazon could benefit more from data collection because its main purpose is to sell products, says Alex Harman, director of competition policy at the group. anti-monopoly Economic Security Project.

“To them, data is about tricking you into buying more and getting locked into their business,” Harman says.

PA

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