As these robot vacuums scour people's homes in search of crumbs and pet fur, they also secretly snap pictures of users on their toilets, it has been revealed. In some cases, those photos, disturbingly, have ended up mysteriously appearing on social media platforms like Facebook and Discord.
Eileen Guo, the article's author, says she investigated the origins of 15 video stills that were captured inside homes by robot vacuums and shared to social media. Some of them, she discovered, feature humans "in very candid positions, faces clearly visible."
"The images were not taken by a person, but by development versions of iRobot's Roomba J7 series robot vacuum," Guo writes. "They were then sent to Scale AI, a startup that contracts workers around the world to label audio, photo, and video data used to train artificial intelligence."
"They were the sorts of scenes that internet-connected devices regularly capture and send back to the cloud – though usually with stricter storage and access controls. Yet earlier this year, MIT Technology Review obtained 15 screenshots of these private photos, which had been posted to closed social media groups."
(Related: Amazon purchased iRobot and its Roomba vacuums specifically for the purpose of invading people's privacy).
The 15 images that Guo obtained and analyzed are just a drop in the bucket of the more than two million images that have been captured by iRobot Roombas and stored by Scale AI. And those millions of images are just a fraction of the many additional millions that are being captured by other similar in-home spy devices.
Between Alexa speakers, Ring doorbells, and now iRobot Roombas, Amazon really is expanding its technological portfolio for the obvious purpose of capturing every last detail of people's private lives. Amazon has become the world's creepiest and most invasive peeping Tom, in other words.
"It's not just a robot vacuum watching you on the toilet – a person may be looking too," tweeted Carissa Véliz, an author and professor at the University of Oxford.
As news continues to spread about iRobot Roombas spying on users in their most private moments, company CEO Colin Angle told MIT Technology Review that it is "terminating its relationship with the service provider who leaked the images." Angle added that his company is "actively investigating the matter and taking measures to help prevent a similar leak by any service provider in the future."
In the comments, someone pointed out that it is not just Amazon that is watching people in their most private moments. All "smart" devices, this person explained, are spy devices in some capacity.
"Also, there are TVs with cameras and even smartphones can be used for spying on their owners," added another. "Maybe someone could make a career out of removing these intrusive features from cars and appliances? Maybe even remove the control freak thermostat limits on air conditioners and heaters?"
Another wrote that none of this would have even been possible were it not for the fact that people today "are so unbelievably lazy, trusting, and stupid."
"I would laugh," this person added, "but it's concerning more than anything."
"Compromising files on everyone: that's the goal," wrote another about the ever-expanding Internet of Things (IoT) that is taking over the world.
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