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Roomba Is No Spy: CEO Says iRobot Will Never Sell Your Data (zdnet.com) 86

It's been a challenging week for iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba robotic vacuums. From a report: It started with an interview in Reuters, in which the company's chief executive Colin Angle gave the clear impression that iRobot was selling consumers' home mapping data (Editor's note: the chief executive said the company intended to explore the opportunity). Last night, Angle and iRobot got back to me on this issue. They provided the following response to the concerns I and others shared. "First things first, iRobot will never sell your data. Our mission is to help you keep a cleaner home and, in time, to help the smart home and the devices in it work better. There's no doubt that a robot can help your home be smarter. It's the data it collects to do its job, and the trusted relationship between you, your robot and iRobot, that is critical for that to happen. Information that is shared needs to be controlled by the customer and not as a data asset of a corporation to exploit. That is how data is handled by iRobot today. Customers have control over sharing it. I want to make very clear that this is how data will be handled in the future."
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Roomba Is No Spy: CEO Says iRobot Will Never Sell Your Data

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  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @10:12PM (#54901981)

    Keeping it local is all that's needed for effective room vacuuming.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly. So many companies artificially make the cloud a requirement. There is no reason something like this cannot be operated locally.

      "AI" isn't actual AI. Any standard PC or mobile device can handle the processing requirements for all consumer products.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @12:39AM (#54902385)
      If everyone sends it back, it would make the next robot better. Better mapping of actual areas. Battery vs cleaning tradoffs. All that stuff. So your today robot won't be impacted by your data, but the next one you buy will be improved if you do.
    • So if you upgrade to a newer Roomba or have to swap it out under warranty, the replacement doesn't have to learn the floor layout from scratch. I'm not saying it's vital, but it does serve a useful function. The technically competent among us would probably rather have it upload the layout to our NAS. But for the 95% who are technically illiterate, the "it just works" appeal of cloud storage probably is much more attractive.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        That could just as easily have been done by storing the mapping data on a standard, removable format like an sdcard that the user could easily remove and transfer to a new roomba.
    • I had no idea Roomba phoned home. I have pondered over the years whether to buy one - well I am definitely not buying one now! And my next TV isn't going to be a "smart" TV either. Tired of shit being connected to my network, gathering data. Bad enough my browser is tracked extensively.
    • by arglebargle_xiv ( 2212710 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @06:42AM (#54902997)

      "First things first, iRobot will never sell your data"

      They edited out the next bit, which says "we do however reserve the right to trade it, exchange it with business partners in exchange for consessions, or provide it to law enforcement. Note that none of this counts as selling it".

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      So just buy a Roomba that doesn't have Wi-Fi, or don't turn it on, or buy one of the many brands of vacuum robots that don't offer any kind of network connectivity. As a bonus, unconnected robots are usually cheaper.

      The reason the new Roombas have internet connectivity is that it is a selling point. Seriously, how are they going to market a $900 robot when a $200 Chinese robot can do the job effectively. And their gimmick is "look, not only you can control an monitor the robot from anywhere using your smart

    • "iRobot will never sell your data"....however, we will share your data with our trusted partners, who just happened to have given us a bunch of money for no specific reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 28, 2017 @10:15PM (#54901993)

    Oh wait, you won't do that, will you?

    I considered getting a Roomba recently. Not anymore.

    • Of course of course. Too many people are ignorant of the hard reality that a TOS is in no way a binding contract. In fact it's written that way so the corporation can chance the terms of the deal on the fly whenever it's convenient. And you're stuck with it as long as you're using their license software.

      You know when I had an order for not one but TWO iRobot Roomba 880 we just got for a multi story house. I had already ordered the things when I heard about this situation. They're now packed up back goi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you believe the written contract or an off the cuff remark by their CEO?

    • The written agreement with my vacuum says they have the right to sell my data. I believe that over his informal claim.

    • by tgeek ( 941867 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @11:00PM (#54902131)
      This is not an off the cuff comment:

      "Customers have control over sharing it. I want to make very clear that this is how data will be handled in the future."

      That is a carefully worded statement. I would be interested in seeing their actual policy - my cynical mind reads statements like the above as: "we'll do whatever we damn well please with your data . . . unless you tell us not to . . . in writing . . . on the back of an original copy of the Magne Carte . . . notarized . . . delivered by passenger pigeon . . . within 3 days of purchase"
      • Whenever they talk about "your data", that's a smoke screen. Your data is not as valuable as the "derived data" or "modelled data" that they distill from your data. These are the thousands of scores and ratings that databrokers sell. This is "their data", and it's way more valuable. In the USA these algorithmically derived scores are even protected as "corporate free speech"!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This guy sounds like the Ford CEO saying that they know whenever someone runs a red light.

    He outed himself, and the company doesn't deserve a dime.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This guy sounds like the Ford CEO saying...

      It wasn't the Ford CEO. It was Global VP/Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley. Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20170610233345/http://www.businessinsider.com/ford-exec-gps-2014-1 [archive.org]

      Ford's Global VP/Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, said something both sinister and obvious during a panel discussion about data privacy today at CES, the big electronics trade show in Las Vegas.

      Because of the GPS units installed in Ford vehicles, Ford knows when many of its drivers are speeding, and where they are while they're doing it.

      Farley has since retracted his statements.

      Yes, of course he did.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I sincerely hope they go out of business.

    Imagine their mentality in a company who sells a sexbot...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 28, 2017 @10:21PM (#54902021)

    Even if he is sincere, which is certainly possible and even likely, the data collected will potentially be out there forever. It means not only are you trusting this CEO, you are trusting every possible future CEO and every company that may one day buy iRobot and every situation that may develop when the company is someday having financial stress and so on. Furthermore you are trusting that no hacker ever penetrates the systems holding the aggregated data.

    This is the same problem with every IOT device. Deciding that you trust the current data collector is only a small piece of the large situation.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There's an opportunity for the company, iRobot, to do something about this?
      Put a plan to secure the data technically and legally, get in touch with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, get the issue written about in the company's statutes so that a rogue CEO or director etc. can't overturn the decision and sell data on a whim next Tuesday, give control to the customers for turning off the data collection or the entire feature. (perhaps allow to keep the data on the LAN, though that's more complex and for a s

    • Deciding that you trust the current data collector is only a small piece of the large situation.

      A lesson I learned when I bought a 2nd Gen Nest and then saw the company get bought by Google about a year later.

  • HE does not matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @10:35PM (#54902063) Homepage Journal

    As we've seen before, all it takes is to have a merger or a sale. And then the new owners will milk it like the golden cow. We've seen that over, and over, and over again. That's what half the buy-outs do, they're just a clearing house, to carve up the company assets and sell them piecemeal for more than they paid for the lot. That's why we see so many companies get sold twice in rapid succession - they get bought out, the valuable IP etc they have gets distributed around, and the husk of the company gets resold.

    So when they say "We PROMISE!", I say it doesn't matter if you keep your word or not, it's not going to be UP to you when it matters.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You know, if actual severe consequences were had for what they do, we wouldn't have this problem.

      Like one limb and one immediate family member per abuse.

    • I mean if this is the agreement that users sign up for, that the data is theirs and will not be included in a sale because it is not an asset it could possibly be useful. You'd have to have an agreement which didn't have the 'and we can change this at any point' type language. A very narrow data specific agreement would probably be best, keep the language in it short and understandable. If they do not legally own the data they cannot sell it. Also none of the no class-action or any other restriction of righ

    • So when they say "We PROMISE!", I say it doesn't matter if you keep your word or not, it's not going to be UP to you when it matters.

      When they say "we promise" I say that most of the time, they have no intention whatsoever of keeping their word. Remember minecraft? Notch can DIAF.

  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Deemus ( 115875 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @10:52PM (#54902115)

    Our Roomba 860 is defeated on a nightly basis by my 2 year old daughter's 3 sets of wired headphones and appropriately sized oven mitts from her play kitchen. Collect all the data you like....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 28, 2017 @11:02PM (#54902135)

    I own 2 Roomba 980's and I was very disappointed by this debacle. If their intent is truly to help their customers and not gather data to sell at a later date, then they could start by not artificially blocking VPN in their mobile application. The mobile app is able to function over directly over local WiFi without internet access, but if you're remote, it checks if the device is connected to WiFi and matches on the SSID associated with the Roomba. If they don't match, it refuses to operate without going through the cloud even if you can successfully connect to the Roomba by IP over VPN (and call the APIs manually). It doesn't even try to connect by IP. This tells me that they're really more interested in trying to ensure you use the Cloud, and thus they get all the data.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @11:09PM (#54902157)
    --- cough--- CEO Says iRobot Will Never Sell Your Data --- cough

    .
    Of course not. Unless you get an email saying that the ToS has changed. Then, well, maybe, your private data may be sold as part of the bounty that the company purchasing Roomba gets to acquire. How many people have gotten The Email that states "we've been bought. Your data no longer belongs to you."?

    Is the acquiring company buying Roomba because of the thing that maps out your house, or is the company buying Roomba because of the database of house layouts?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 28, 2017 @11:12PM (#54902173)

    It's not like all those devices actually need internet connections. They are simply data gathering devices that send all that data home to their true masters who will collect, analyze and sell all that data to the highest bidder. THAT is the business model. Any talk of "giving users better control" is just talk.

  • by Zombie Ryushu ( 803103 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @11:36PM (#54902239)

    Its a vaccum cleaner. Can it be denied internet access and still function?

    • Even if it can't, there are workarounds. I seen several examples of pirated Adobe Creative Cloud suites with blockers to trick CC into thinking it phoned home. I doubt a Roomba would require more effort.
  • Okay, if you are collecting data, you are collecting for only one reason: To profit from it. I've yet to see an exception of when a company collects data, it eventually sells it in part or has a whole for maximum profit. I think at this point people have finally begun to realize that if someone in tech can be abused it will, and with vigor. Everyone who said "we won't sell your data" has been caught collecting data and selling it in one form or another. Microsoft, they collection so much from Windows 10, an
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does the unit work if its connection to the internet is blocked ? If so, simple fix at the router makes this whole thing moot.

    Why does a vaccuum cleaner need an internet connection ?

  • I heard about the Rumba mapping out the house. I heard the data was to be sold to deep data. What I don't understand is how anyone could think this could be monitized. Other than thiefs with way too much money to spend, anyway, and even there, it's not clear how that would be useful to them.

    In any case, I was just wondering.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Shared means I should have access to my data too. Taken means I don't have access to my data.

  • The US and many other countries employ spies all the time, but never sell the data. Selling it makes you an information broker, merely getting it makes you a spy.

  • They want to sell their stuff and will say whatever it takes to do so. Of course they will not sell your data, until they change their mind because of their shareholders / losses / possibility to make more money / change in CEO / ....
  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @07:27AM (#54903123)

    And you can trust him, because no CEO has ever told a lie.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @08:49AM (#54903401)

    Unless it's part of the sales agreement that they won't ever sell your data, this doesn't mean shit. Even so, if the sales agreement isn't a signed contract, it might get broken. Company get sold to somebody who wants to recoup the acquisition price with that sweet, sweet data. Ooops, sorry.

  • ...until this blows over in the media and until iRobot has a chance to update their terms of service "agreement." :(

    "Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned; they therefore do as they like." -- Edward, First Baron Thurlow.

  • Roomba has a partnership "Roomba Data Services LLC", rents the data to them, and they will sell the data.

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