Hello and thanks for reading.
At our Novotech head office, we have a Roomba that routinely makes its way around our office, keeping the carpets nice and neat. For the most part, it kind of does its own thing….which often includes eating my iPhone cable that is plugged into the wall. While it doesn’t replace a thorough vacuuming, it definitely helps with crumbs and things.
However, who knew that Roomba had an alternative motive when it was going around your home? One of the biggest pushes that companies have towards the world of IoT is information, and apparently, your Roomba knows a lot more about you than you think, as least according to this Washington Post article.
Should we be concerned or angered?
I think in this case, the answer is no and a definite yes. Most of the time when usage/location information is sold, it is done so in a cumulative fashion (so they may sell information about room sizes in the NW US, as an example, and not about your home specifically). Traditionally, this information would have been achieved by using things like the original home blue prints, but the Roomba would give a much more accurate picture, as it would work on homes of all sizes and build dates and it would even factor in things like renovations.
As I mentioned, not really something to be concerned about…but I would be angry. I have always said that nothing is truly free in this world and this is the case for many “free” applications’. Take an application like RunKeeper, which keeps track of how much you run. Seems like a great idea and it is a useful tool. However, that information (where you run, when you run, what shoes you wear, etc), is valuable to many organizations…..cities want to know where people run to plan the next path system and corporations want to know how to better market apparel to you, just as an example. If you use a free application, you have to know that the trade off is that your data is likely the way the company keeps their lights on.
However, Roomba is not free, so why are they double-dipping?
The answer is because they can. Most people don’t even think twice about agreeing to online forms that grant them the permission to do so. The question is, should you care?
The Bottom Line
The reality is that just about anything can gather data on your usage and with the low cost of Wi-Fi/Cellular modules, more devices will start to. Your toaster will tell the manufacturer how dark you like your bread, which will allow them to better optimize the components on the next model…..your washing machine will tell your manufacturer how often people use special cycles while your dryer will reveal how often you really bother to empty the lint tray…..you get the point.
One can easily argue that IoT provides information that will make things more reliable and safe…indeed it does. However, it also provides data that can be used for things that you may feel invade your privacy, so maybe it is time to read some of the T’s and C’s that you agree to, even on your next Roomba.