How paranoid are you feeling? The news that Amazon intends to acquire home robot firm iRobot, maker of the superb Roomba range, has got many smart home fans excited and privacy campaigners concerned. Is Amazon buying iRobot to make better vacuums, or to vacuum up the last of your privacy?
Let's start with the products. Mergers and acquisitions take time, so if the deal goes ahead we're not suddenly going to see iRobot veer off in another direction like a cheap Roomba copy; it'll be business as usual for a while. But over time we should see extensive Alexa integration and perhaps some interesting new robots too.
Amazon has experimented with robots before in the form of its Amazon Astro device, but iRobot does the robot thing much better: instead of trying to make robots that look like the ones we've seen on TV and in movies, it makes the best robots that do practical tasks brilliantly. That focus – making robots that aren't just an Echo Show on wheels – could do some amazing things with Amazon's money.
As for the privacy... that's more complicated.
Does Amazon want to map your home with a vacuum?
When the news of the iRobot acquisition broke, I joked that its home mapping meant there'd be no hiding place from Jeff Bezos's stormtroopers if you decided not to renew your Prime membership. But there are genuine concerns about just how much data Amazon is – ahem – hoovering up already. This is the firm of Ring and Blink smart home security cameras, including some of the best video doorbells; the firm whose Sidewalk shared network could follow you around outside; whose recent purchases include One Medical, sparking concerns that Amazon wants to look at your medical data too. Do we really want Amazon in every room, aware of everything we and our families do at every moment of the day?
In all honesty, though, I'm more worried by another aspect of the purchase: I'm less concerned that Amazon knows where my sofa sits than by the fact that Amazon appears destined to own everything: it's acquired over 100 companies to date including Kiva (now Amazon Robotics), Ring, Twitch, MGM and Whole Foods. And given Amazon's record in pricing its own products, you can expect some aggressive discounting on future Roomba products to the point where rival firms may decide simply not to compete. That could give Amazon an effective monopoly in yet another sector, and monopolies don't tend to work out well for consumers.