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Roomba Hoovers Up More Than Dirt

As a byproduct of its efforts to clean your house, cleaning robots like Roomba make a basic sort of map of your home.


(Roomba mapping)

Jamie Lee Williams, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said information about the size of a home and the amount of furniture in it could allow advertisers to deduce the owner’s income level. Eventually, it might even be possible to identify the brands the owner uses.

“Especially combined with other data, this is going to be able to reveal a ton of information about what people’s lifestyles are like, what people’s daily patterns are like,” Ms. Williams said.

What happens if a Roomba user consents to the data collection and later sells his or her home — especially furnished — and now the buyers of the data have a map of a home that belongs to someone who didn’t consent, Mr. Gidari asked. How long is the data kept? If the house burns down, can the insurance company obtain the data and use it to identify possible causes? Can the police use it after a robbery?

(NYTimes)

The idea of a device that could be carried and created a map of the user's movements was used by beloved science fiction golden age writer Jack Williamson in his amazing 1936 novel The Cometeers; perhaps fans may remember the cartograph:

He reached to unsnap the cartograph from his belt. He had brought that tiny instrument to map their movements. He opened the cover and peered at the strip.

"We're nearly seven miles from where the prison used to be," he said thoughtfully.


(The Cometeers by Jack Williamson)

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