Robot vacuum company mulls selling maps of homes

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RoombaImage source, iRobot

IRobot, the maker of the Roomba smart vacuum, could one day sell data drawn from the maps the devices build up of individual homes as they clean.

The Roomba is an automated floor cleaner that can be activated via an app and find its own way around, using sensors and a camera.

Founder Colin Angle said the data they gathered could be used to make other devices work better in a smart home.

Nothing would be done without the owner's consent, he added.

"Right now, iRobot is building maps to enable the Roomba to efficiently and effectively clean your home," he said in a statement.

"In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better.

"For example, in order for the lights to turn on when you walk into a room, the home must know what lights are in which rooms."

The device became compatible with Amazon's digital assistant, the Echo, in March, and Mr Angle suggested to Reuters that Amazon, Google or Apple could be interested in the data collected by Roomba.

None of the companies commented.


Roomba's terms and conditions state that it collects a range of data about its customers, including when they interact with it on social media.

When connected to wi-fi, the device can collect and transmit information about itself and its location, they add.

Security researcher Ken Munro, from Pen Test Partners, told the BBC that privacy could be an issue.

"I think manufacturers aren't seeing the growth everyone expected in internet of things, and the temptation for gathering data from your house and monetising it is enormous," he said.

"We think about the internet of things invading our security, but actually it has the potential to invade our privacy too."

Update 1 August 2017:

Reuters published a correction to its interview with Mr Angle to make it clear he had said iRobot might "share maps for free with customer consent" rather than "sell" the maps.

The tech firm subsequently issued a statement saying: "iRobot does not sell customer data. Our customers always come first. We will never violate our customer's trust by selling or misusing customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products."