The following is from an open letter to iRobot CEO Colin Angle. His company makes the very popular Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. On Monday, ZDNet’s Jake Smith wrote about iRobot’s intention to sell mapping data from customers’ homes to other companies.
❝ Dear Colin,
One of the ways Webster defines “dear” is “highly valued” or “precious.” So, when I start a letter with “Dear Colin,”…I’m just using a commonly accepted way of starting a letter.
This is relevant to our discussion because you’ve recently talked about taking from your customers information that is dear to them, even though you’ve never met most of the people who enjoy the benefits of your products. When your customers buy your products, there are some common expectations.
❝ It looks like you may be thinking about or trying to violate those expectations. By extension, it’s looking like you might be violating the trust given to you by your customers. Even worse, you could be opening the door to security risks that are far worse than they would be worth, just so you can make a few extra bucks on the side.
In a recent Reuters interview, you talked about the value of mapping data, both for doing the job of cleaning a room, and for understanding the environment where internet-connected things need to interoperate. So far, I’m with you…
That data could be used to help maximize lighting, tune sound, optimize microphones, determine when people or pets are in a space, and help conserve energy. All that is good…
❝ But here’s the thing that has the whole internet a-flutter. Apparently, you’re trying to sell that mapping data. I understand that…but once you get into the mode of selling data, the potential for abuse rears its oh-so-ugly head.
You’re no longer mapping our homes to make sure you don’t tear out a power cord or fall down a flight of stairs. You’re moving into the realm of spying on your customers. In your case, though, it’s far worse than those stories of possible always-on webcams or TV sets…
See, none of those other devices can move around the house on their own power. If my TV is in the living room, I know it’s there. If I’m concerned about my privacy, I’m probably not going to parade my naked butt in front of it. But a Roomba can decide to wake itself up. It can wander around the house. It can measure, map, and with your onboard camera, even take pictures.
What could go wrong?
The CEO of iRobot has been further interviewed by ZDNet. He denies that the firm will sell customer data. Pls read it. Judge for yourself.