Amazon has grown into one of the largest companies in the world by dominating online retail, and now it’s harnessing that power to become a staple of our digital lives with products like Alexa, Twitch, and Ring. The company’s latest addition could bridge the gap between the digital and the real world. Amazon buys 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 will suck for customers who care about privacy. And not like a vacuum is supposed to suck.
Roombas has been around for so long that the brand has become almost synonymous with robotic vacuum cleaners. There are plenty of other vacuum cleaners out there, but they may not be around after Amazon finishes. It pays $1.7 billion for the company, and it could put 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 into people’s homes and reduce competitors’ power. Amazon regularly uses seller data to undermine the companies that use its platform to move products.
A monopoly on robot vacuums isn’t good for the smart home space, but that’s really secondary. Many are calling this Amazon’s most dangerous acquisition because of the sheer amount of data that robots like a Roomba can collect about your home. To efficiently clean your space, many modern vacuum cleaners have lidar sensors and cameras to create a floor plan of your home. They can learn your floor plan, where you place furniture, and even what your floors are made of.
1. Hello. Amazon today announced that it would pay $1.7 billion to acquire iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.
It is arguably the most dangerous and threatening takeover in the company’s history. A wire.
— ron knox (@ronmknox) August 5, 2022
And there could be some really interesting perks for 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 from robot vacuums to create a wireless coverage map and adjust router performance. Alexa-powered Echo devices can also know which rooms to fine-tune commands and media playback in.
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 to 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 for targeting ads and product suggestions like never before. There’s definitely an uncanny factor here, and people may not realize the kind of access they give Amazon when they buy a cleaning robot. The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t approved the deal yet, but there’s little reason to expect them to get in the way. Like it or not, Amazon is probably about to have robotic, internet-connected sensor platforms in millions of homes.