‘A Surveillance Company’: Rights Group Sounds Alarm After Amazon Acquires iRobot
‘A Surveillance Company’: Rights Group Sounds Alarm After Amazon Acquires iRobot

By Rebecca Zhu

Amazon’s $1.7 billion (A$2.4 billion) acquisition deal for iRobot, the creator of Roomba robot vacuums, will give the e-commerce giant another avenue to collect personal information if nothing is done to protect it, Digital Rights Watch warned.

On Friday, both companies announced they had entered into a definitive merger in an all-cash transaction.

Digital Rights Watch, a non-profit advocacy group, noted that the acquisition comes shortly after Amazon purchased health care company One Medical in July, which would allow the incorporation of health data into its existing artificial intelligence products such as Alexa.

Roombas have a function that collects, creates, and uploads detailed maps of people’s homes, allowing extra functions such as only cleaning a specific room.

Such information will now be available to Amazon, along with the other wealth of information it collects.

Call to Protect Privacy

The rights advocacy group called on the Australian government to tighten privacy laws amid the current Privacy Act review to protect large companies from collecting more personal data.

“At its core, Amazon is a surveillance company. Amazon protects its market power and profitability by using its scale to build detailed profiles on millions of people and uses that to predict market trends and manipulate user behaviour,” Digital Rights Watch Executive Director James Clark said in a media release.

“This acquisition isn’t about selling robot vacuums, this is so Amazon can gather even more information about our lives and our homes.

“We should be concerned that any company can have this much information about how we live our lives. Amazon knows a lot about us, and we know very little about them; that kind of asymmetry of power is very concerning for our rights and democracy.”

Roomba robot vacuums made by iRobot are displayed on a shelf at a Bed Bath and Beyond store in Larkspur, California, on Aug. 5, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Clark said personal information should not be treated as an asset for trading and that there should be a limit on how companies can use and share it.

“Imagine a future where Amazon could combine data about your living situation from Roomba, your purchasing habits from Amazon, and your viewing habits on Prime video to determine your risk profile to adjust your insurance premiums,” he said.

An Amazon spokesperson told The Epoch Times that protecting customer data has always been “incredibly important” to the company and it believes it has been “very good stewards” of data.

“Customer trust is something we have worked hard to earn—and work hard to keep—every day,” the spokesperson said.

“We use customer data to improve customers’ experiences with our products and services and to support our partners; we don’t sell customer data to third parties or use customer data for purposes that customers haven’t consented to.”

Roomba is the most popular home robot vacuum of choice for consumers, giving iRobot 75 percent market share for robot vacuums according to industry database Statistica.

As such, competition issues of Amazon’s market dominance have also been raised in Washington, with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan already pursuing an antitrust review into Amazon’s previous purchase of One Medical.

Caden Pearson contributed to this report.

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