If Amazon’s Home Data Sucking Doesn’t Worry You, It Should

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OPINION: Amazon buying robot vacuum maker Roomba gives it control of a dangerous amount of home data. Is it time for us to take stock and protect our most sacred spaces?

If you own a few select products, Amazon knows an insane amount about what’s going on in your home. Do you have an Amazon Echo speaker? It can match your every word. Although he won’t “listen” unless you say the wake word, he can hear when you break the wind. He can hear when you are intimate with a partner. He knows what you like to listen to while getting dressed.

If you connect a few smart products to said speaker, it can work when you come and go, when you go to bed, and when you wake up for morning coffee. Your Alexa-connected smart bulbs and door locks betray the game. If you have a Ring security camera or a video doorbell, that’s now owned by Amazon, and it can see who’s coming and going.

Have a Fire TV product? Amazon knows what you’re looking at. If you happen to shop at Whole Foods, Amazon knows if you like cooking up extra firm tofu or rib eye steaks to accompany an episode of The Boys. You get the idea, right? That’s a lot of trust you place in a company that has a less than stellar record in this regard (see here, here and here to name just a few incidents we’ve reported in recent years).

It happened quite quickly and easily. A full foray into our private spaces, one smart device at a time, making our lives easier and faster.

Sometimes you have to say it out loud to get the idea. Amazon (and the rest of the big tech companies) have bugged our homes — our most sacred spaces — and we’re okay with that because voice control is convenient and still a bit of a novelty.

Sweep it under the rug

The invasion just got a little more intense. Amazon bought iRobot, the company behind Roomba vacuums. So what? You can think. Well, Roombas work successfully by creating an impression of the layout of your home, to avoid bumping into things.

So congratulations, Roomba users, Amazon now has a map of your home’s interior. He knows if you can use a dining table or an actual entertainment center to replace that crappy TV stand. It knows if you sleep in a single or king-size bed. Plus it potentially knows when you’re sleeping (Alexa lights on/off, door lock/unlock commands). If you bought one of those stupid Amazon Halo fitness bands, it knows how you slept (although not very effectively).

In isolation, Amazon buying iRobot isn’t the biggest deal in the world. However, it is the cumulative effect of all this data that is so valuable to Amazon as it pursues a grand quest to become the only store on Earth (and beyond). Roomba user data could undoubtedly help Amazon sell even more smart home products. An Echo in every room? An Eero Bridge Wi-Fi Router for that hard-to-reach corner? Another Ring camera for the garden? You had the idea. This push won’t go away until every word and every inch of the house is accounted for and documented on an AWS server.

Sleep with the enemy

Buying Roomba is also another lesson for us as consumers. If you’re investing in an exciting new startup ecosystem, there’s always a chance your data will end up in the hands of big tech after an acquisition.

Ring users have already experienced what Roomba users are about to do. For a more extreme example, talk to some Fitbit users about how they feel about years and years of intimate body data (cycle tracking, sleep, heart rate, exercise, etc.) ending up in Google’s hands.

Is it time for governments to get involved? From my point of view, Big Tech should not have access to any of these users’ data from the moment before the purchase, unless explicitly agreed.

People should be able to opt out. That way, they can start fresh somewhere else, knowing that the most powerful companies in the world don’t have access to intimate data that they haven’t agreed to hand over to a company that already knows too much.

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