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iRobot, the company that makes Roombas, has agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $1.7 billion. According to a joint press release put out by the two companies, Amazon’s interest in this acquisition stems from iRobot’s history of creating products “that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.” But according to some wary observers, the deal is more about something far dirtier: personal data, the most valuable of resources. Specifically, Roombas create maps of the interiors of customers’ homes as they learn pathways and avoid big drops. In the past, iRobot has acknowledged the potential opportunities of monetizing this information, by selling it to other retailers. For Amazon, information about customers is central to its business model, because with more information, it can appeal more powerfully to each buyer, thereby establishing its nearly monopoly position. Then again, even without vacuum-mapped details about people’s homes, Amazon already has access to all kinds of data, including depictions of parts of people’s homes. It owns the video doorbell company Ring, the AI assistant Alexa, and a lot of other tools that people use willingly, to invite Amazon to get to know every inch of their living space. But with a detailed map of people’s homes, Amazon also can learn about the square footage of their homes, which is a good proxy for income levels, and what sorts of furniture is (or is not) already in place—and thus what kinds of items it should push to consumers next time they click onto its site.

Source: George Anderson, “Is Amazon’s Deal for iRobot All about Mapping Americans’ Homes?” RetailWire, August 8, 2022; “Amazon and iRobot Sign an Agreement for Amazon to Acquire iRobot,” press.aboutamazon.com, August 5, 2022; Khari Johnson, “The iRobot Deal Would Give Amazon Maps inside Millions of Homes,” Wired, August 5, 2022