There is a good chance you’ve heard by now that Amazon bought iRobot, the company that makes Roomba, for $1.7 billion. Amazon and iRobot already had a close relationship as Roombas have been a featured product on Prime Day for 8 consecutive years. But now, this relationship is going one step further. By the time next the next Prime Day rolls around, you’ll probably be able to yell at Alexa to turn your Roomba on. For some people, this sounds like a major convenience. But, for others, it’s a nightmare. In fact, there are a few analysts that are already sounding the alarm on this acquisition. Let’s examine all the implications of Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot.
Data, Data, Data
IRobot manufactures and sells robot vacuums, mops, air purifiers, and educational devices. Its vacuums navigate around your house cleaning, sweeping, and mopping. To do this, they need to be able to dodge furniture, clothes on the floor, and the dog. In fact, iRobot claims that some of its vacuums can recognize over 80 household objects.
Some Roomba’s even come with smart mapping technology. This tech “allows your robot to remember your home so you can tailor your clean by sending your robot to clean specific areas of your home.” On top of that, newer Roomba models even have cameras. This lets them see and avoid obstacles in front of them.
In other words, a Roomba is essentially a roaming data collection machine that also comes with a vacuum. To do its job, it naturally has to collect physical data about the interior of your home.
If you are curious why Amazon would want access to data like this, this post from the Reddit thread r/Technology does a good job of summing it up:
Amazon can also use the data that Roombas collect from mapping your house to make other estimates. For example, the size of your floorplan can let Amazon know how wealthy you might be. A floor littered with toys (kids or animals) also lets Amazon know who lives in your house.
Before you know it, your Roomba will be able to know exactly what products you might want to buy. Alexa can then suggest them to you and a drone will drop them on your doorstep before you even realized what you were buying.
Roomba and Alexa are also just the tips of the iceberg when it comes to Amazon’s reach. Let’s break down other companies Amazon owns and how the iRobot acquisition fits in.
Add Roomba to Amazon’s list
Amazon currently owns:
- One Medical – A digital primary healthcare provider.
- Ring – A home security and smart home company.
- PillPack – An online pharmacy.
- Eero – A home wifi system.
- Whole Foods – The chain of grocery stores.
- Twitch – An interactive live streaming service.
So, in terms of data, it looks like Amazon has good insight into people’s health records and drug prescriptions. It also provides security for their home, powers the wifi, and knows their grocery patterns. Now, Amazon will also be able to literally map the inside of homes.
Amazon’s Ring doorbell sits on the outside of your home keeping tabs on who comes and goes. Alexa and Echo are sitting inside listening to what you say. Now, Roomba is collecting data on what the inside of your home looks like.
Cause for concern?
If you’re intensely private about your data then Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot might have sent a tingle down your spine. It’s just one more way that Jeff Bezos is sneaking into your home and collecting data. However, to its credit, Amazon has always been relentlessly focused on providing the best value to its customers.
Sure, it collects customer data but it mostly uses this data to improve its products and add value to the customer experience. Amazon has always stated that they do not sell users’ data. When comparing it to a company like Meta Platforms, Amazon actually has a pretty good track record.
The biggest concern is just that we are somewhat forced to just take trust Amazon and take its word for it that it will never misuse this data. When it comes to this trust, it’s a very one-sided relationship.
Another reason for the purchase
Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot might not only be about data. Amazon also owns Amazon Robotics, which is the branch that runs the robots in its warehouses. These robots are actually fairly similar to Roombas. Amazon might be interested in using Roomba tech to improve the robotics in its warehouses.
Interestingly, Amazon has tried several times to create a competitor to iRobot’s Roomba. However, its own robots have always struggled and never really gained any traction. Amazon could just be using a strategy that’s old as time… “If you can’t beat them, buy them”.
Final thoughts on Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot
Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot certainly caught a lot of people off guard. But, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. This acquisition is really just Amazon taking another step to widen its economy of products (which is already quite large). Now, Roomba can join Alexa, Echo, and Ring in attempting to create “smart homes” that are powered by Amazon.
With that said, there is still a chance that Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot will not get approved. Several officials with the Federal Trade Commission have already voiced concerts. In fact, one data privacy expert called Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot “the most dangerous, threatening acquisition in the company’s history.” Only time will tell what Amazon’s true intentions are.
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