The walls (and the vacuums) have eyes! How Big Tech watches us – Deseret News

September 5, 2022 by No Comments

Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot — the manufacturer of Roomba smart vacuums — last month for 1.65 billion has some sounding the alarm. Experts are concerned both by how the company is further monopolizing multiple industries as well as what the acquisition could mean for individual privacy disruptions. 

But it’s not just Roomba spying that has many concerned. Bluetooth devices that track your whereabouts, kid’s toys that record your child’s voice and even data collected from your smart vacuum or smart toilet could spell danger from hackers, judicial overreach from law enforcement agencies, or give insurance companies otherwise private data.

Living through the modern advent of so many smart devices, apps, and technologies may come with many perks and conveniences, but with so much data now being collected and banked by the same big tech organizations, it could also mean the end of personal privacy as we know it — including and especially within the safety of our own homes. 

“We use smart devices of all sorts every day,” said Sophia Maalsen, lecturer in Urbanism at the University of Sydney. “In doing so, we are always generating personal data about ourselves which is sent to the provider and third parties that collect this data and monetize it in different ways.” 

That collection and monetization of data is sometimes done by tech companies that monitor consumers through smart phones, Bluetooth trackers, tablets, home security systems, smart TVs and virtual assistant technologies such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. 

“I don’t think any one device is more dangerous than another,” said Torrey Trust, associate professor of learning technology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I think the danger lies in having multiple devices that are collecting lots of types of data and selling or sharing this data with data brokers that create very detailed, specific profiles of consumers for targeted advertising or other uses,” she said. 

“Any app that can track your location on your phone all the time, likely knows when you are home, when you’re at work, who you sleep next to, etc.”

What happens, for instance, when a smart vacuum such as Roomba is connected to the internet and starts sending data back to Amazon on the content it’s vacuuming up (think pet fur or Goldfish crackers)? That’s powerful information to have. Or what might the implications be of a smart vacuum that notifies a health insurance company of dangerous objects in the home? Consider that last month Amazon also purchased a primary care organization One Medical for nearly $4 billion and has expressed interest in the past in starting its own insurance company.

“Roomba is not just interested in collecting floor plans,” said Jathan Sadowski, a senior fellow at Monash University’s Emerging Tech Lab in Melbourne, Australia. Sadowski advised that people who shrug off concerns about corporations obtaining such vast amounts of information are “thinking of the data one-dimensionally,” and instead should consider, “how that data will be compiled in other sources and streams” once it’s combined with everything else corporate juggernauts already know about each user. 

Sadowski acknowledged that information such as a home’s architectural blueprint is likely already available at the county records office, but said that obtaining such records is harder to access than most people realize and not available en masse. “It’s not as if you can just go to your county recorder’s office and say, ‘give me all of your floor plans, please,’” Sadowski …….



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