Humans love to predict the future. Flying cars and jetpacks may not be in every home, but we aren’t too far from what people of 1899 anticipated. In fact, we have an exponentially increasing amount of help from robot counterparts. We’re closer to living like The Jetsons than ever before.
However, this constant flood of new technology is beginning to have its drawbacks. Appliances are getting smarter, but we’re losing control over our privacy. With the most menial of our appliances online, companies get to peer into our lives, usually without our knowledge.
Dust and Your Data
iRobot, the company that manufactures Roomba, was the first to create and market an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner successfully. Consumers instantly fell in love with the little Roomba robot when it came to the market in 2002.
iRobot has sold more than 15 million robotic cleaning products, but the 2015 Roomba 980 model is the first with Wi-Fi capabilities. Why would a vacuum cleaner need online access? The idea is to create a device that can learn the layout of a home by collecting spatial data.
Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, believes this data collection will make the Roomba more efficient by enabling it to adjust its patterns following rearranging furniture, he explained to Reuters.
Making Your Home Smarter
At its core, the idea of a smart home has the best of intentions.
“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” Angle said.
Who wouldn’t want a thermostat that is conscious enough to know when you’re home and adjust the temperature accordingly? What about a refrigerator that is aware of its contents and can help you cut down on food waste? The issue isn’t with the collection of your data, but with what happens next.
Where’s the Consent?
While an app can conveniently manage smart televisions, refrigerators, and thermostats, it appears we don’t have the same level of control over what happens to our information. When you hook up one of these new devices and accept the terms of service, you may be signing away the rights to the information they collect.
iRobot lets customers know they can turn off the cloud-sharing function on the Roomba, but like most legal language, their terms of service are hard to follow for non-lawyers. The company claims to have a strict hold on the collected information, but in reality, they have the ability to access it anytime.
The iRobot privacy terms state that they can share your information with third party vendors. Plus, the terms of service share, “Other parties in connection with any company transaction, such as a merger, sale of all or a portion of company assets or shares, reorganization, financing, change of control or acquisition of all or a portion of our business by another company or third party or in the event of bankruptcy or related or similar proceedings.”
These appliances often have default settings that approve data collection. Consumers have to manually turn off the option, rather than decide to opt in. However, disabling data collection doesn’t always mean the stream of information stops flowing.
Consumers are worried all this personal information have the ability to cost them in the future. From monitoring eating habits to utility use, third party access to our everyday lives may land us in hot water. Our late night snacking habits could be tracked and sent to insurance companies, who have the power to raise our premiums accordingly. Not to mention that our utility providers could set water restrictions based on how long we spend in the shower. Are these smart appliances really worth the price of our privacy?