Amazon acquires Roomba-maker iRobot, sparking knowledge considerations

Source: Richard B. Levine / Sipa USA / AAP Image

Amazon has agreed to acquire autonomous vacuum cleaner manufacturer iRobot for US$1.7 billion ($2.45 billion), in a move industry observers say will add household mapping capabilities to Amazon’s already significant data-gathering arsenal.

Global juggernaut Amazon revealed the plan Friday, declaring its intentions to launch an all-cash deal for the company which first brought the Roomba to market in 2002.

The allure of the Roomba — disc-shaped vacuums capable of cleaning floors without human intervention — has changed how people clean their homes, says Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices.

“I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent ways that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable,” he said in a statement.

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The deal is still subject to US regulatory and shareholder approval.

But should it go through, the company behind $1800 household helpers will join other big-ticket acquisitions like One Medical and Australia’s own Zoox in Amazon’s growing company portfolio.

Beyond the potential for Amazon to capitalize on the appetite for next-generation cleaning solutions, critics say the acquisition will amplify Amazon’s data-gathering abilities.

While Amazon gains shopping data from its core market platform, entertainment insights from its streaming services, and endless data points from its voice-activated Alexa assistant, the iRobot purchase means the company could soon understand how its users’ homes are laid out.

Indeed, Amazon referenced the advanced tech which powers the latest Roomba units, saying: “iRobot’s product portfolio features technologies and advanced concepts in cleaning, mapping and navigation.”

And iRobot’s chief executive has previously touted the value of mapping to the broader smart home industry, of which Amazon is a leading player.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” he told Reuters in 2017.

Given the data points collected by Roomba, Ron Knox, a researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — a group championing independent business and criticizing monopoly power — described the takeover as one of the most significant in Amazon’s history.

“From a privacy perspective, this is a nightmare,” Knox wrote on social media.

“From an antitrust perspective, this is one of the most powerful data collection companies on earth acquiring another vast and intrusive set of data.”

10. This is how privacy concerns and antitrust go hand in hand.

When the company that has its cameras and microphones in your speakers, your doorbell, your security cameras tries to buy the company that knows the shape and contents of your home, it’s bad in all the ways.

— ron knox (@ronmknox) August 5, 2022

Similar concerns were voiced by Evan Greer, president of Fight for the Future, who told Wired the acquisition of a seemingly innocuous vaccum company is “a natural extension of the surveillance reach that Amazon already has”.

However, in a separate statement provided to the media, an Amazon spokesperson said: “Customer trust is something we have worked hard to earn — and work hard to keep — every day.”

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