Your Roomba is Sending the Layout of Your House to iRobot HQ
Posted by jackiecummings
I apologize for the clickbait title but with the fact being that I heard people fearing over this on Tumblr and in our course textbook within the week I considered it a ponderable subject for this blog post. Also, my clickbait title isn’t exactly false. Unless you set a Roomba device not to in the app, Roombas will send the mapping data of your house to the cloud, where it’s compiled with other data to make a map for the app. So yes, the Roomba is sending the data to iRobot headquarters, which despite the company’s name being so close to the Will Smith movie, is not planning to use the information to break into everyones homes and start the robot revolution.
However, those that raise the concern around Roomba and other products that collect data in similar ways are likely correct in raising the alarm bells. I know that when I first read the bit in Mary Chayko’s book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media and Techno-Social Life where she raises the concern about Roomba’s data collection, I laughed. She writes:
“Digital sites and apps may seem free to visit or use, but a bounty of personal information is generally provided during such visits. Even as the iRobot “Roomba” is sed to vacuum a floor, information about the items in that person’s house (and their mapped locations) is being collected and could theoretically be shared and sold; imagine ads for armchairs following you across the internet simple because your Roomba has detected that you do not own one!”Mary Chayko, Superconnected
I had read that bit about a day afte having stumbled upon some folks on Tumblr fear-mongering over the Roomba for the very same reason and (in my assumption) a very reasonable user came in and laughed away concerns noting how Roombas can’t collect much information and only use it to make Roombas work better and that previous models of the Roomba would get stuck easily in many homes because the designers and machines didn’t have adequate testing data and to solve that data problem the designers added data collection. Naturally, with the biases of reading that post earlier, I laughed off some of Chayko’s warning. Since, I’ve changed my mind, to an extent. I’ve read more up on the concerns of data privacy and the millions companies are making in the era of surveillance apitalism, much from Chayko’s book.
During the week I also watched The Social Dilemma, which explores the many ethical concerns around the current technological landscape through dramatization and interviews with several major thinkers on the topic. One such thinker is Joe Toscano, founder of the Better Ethics and Consumer Outcomes Network (BEACON), and former Experience Designer at Google, who left Google in 2017 due to ethical concerns. Toscano has a whole TED Talk about his concerns and possible solutions that I watched shortly after watching the documentary. In the talk he stresses that data collection is not simply automating what the tech industry deems as low cost menial work (like the housekeepers that predated to Roomba), but also other jobs to let companies hire less workers and make more money while the labor market becomes even more destabilized. Most frightening to me was the information that Adobe CC (who I thought couldn’t possibly hate designers more than it already does by becoming a subscription service in 2013) collects data from its users which will be used in Adobe Sensei which will automate parts of the creative process, likely eliminating jobs in an already incredibly competitive job market that I am going to school for.
The technology we use collects data on every thing that we “give it permission” to do, and the companies that hold this data are only going to use it to make more and more money with no regard for the consequences on the users’ lives unless we change how these companies are allowed to operate. From Your Roomba May Be Mapping Your Home, Collecting Data That Could Be Shared by Maggie Astor, the Supreme Court worries that once we allow the information about the inner maps of our homes to be something that companies can record, share or even sell, other privacies could be at risk due to the precedent.
I recommend visiting https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/take-action/, as it relates heavily to the material of the section of Chayko’s book we just read through, and it’s less of a time sink than the documentary (another added bonus is those cringe-worthy dramatizations are not in the website).
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.