Key advocates against abusive surveillance and Big Tech monopolies sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging them to challenge Amazon’s purchase of iRobot Corporation—maker of the popular Roomba smart home device. Signers of the letter include organizations who advocate for racial justice, privacy and antitrust reform like Fight for the Future, Public Citizen, Color of Change, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
After years of aggressive acquisitions, Amazon dominates the smart home surveillance market. Amazon’s purchase of iRobot is reminiscent of its 2018 acquisition of Ring, the smart doorbell camera company, which expanded its surveillance reach to millions of homes. Should the iRobot purchase proceed, this deal will similarly harm competition while endangering privacy rights and fueling a surveillance network that disproportionately polices, profiles, and criminalizes communities of color.
The letter highlights severe civil rights and privacy concerns:
“There is no more private space than the home. Yet with this acquisition, Amazon stands to gain access to extremely intimate acts in our most private spaces that are not available through other means, or to other competitors. Information collected by iRobot’s devices goes beyond home floor plans, and includes highly detailed information about the interiors of consumers’ homes and the schedules and lifestyles of the inhabitants. Granting Amazon total access to this kind of private information through this acquisition harms consumers.”
The letter goes on to say, “For years, civil rights groups have been sounding the alarm on the dangers that Amazon’s network of smart home surveillance devices pose to Black and brown communities, specifically those stemming from the mass of data collected by these devices. As with Ring, this acquisition will lead to unanticipated harmful consequences, particularly in an environment where previously established privacy rights, such as the right to obtain an abortion, are eroding. Linking iRobot devices to the already intrusive Amazon home system incentivizes more data collection from more connected home devices, potentially including private details about our habits and our health that would endanger human rights and safety.” Read the full letter here.
The following statement can be attributed to Evan Greer (she/they), Director of Fight for the Future:
“Of course Amazon wants to acquire a company that maps out the inside of our homes. It already has devices that listen to everything we say and record everything we do. With Roomba, it adds another level of surveillance to its invasive “smart” home surveillance ecosystem, giving the company an even greater opportunity to exploit our daily lives for profit.
This pervasive surveillance makes Amazon so powerful that even if you don’t own any of its devices, it can still hurt you. The tech giant’s big-brother-like surveillance network shares warrantless surveillance data with the police, incentivizes racists to criminalize people of color, and gives forced birthers the tools to surveil and snitch on abortion seekers and providers. As Amazon’s surveillance empire grows in size, so do its threats to all of us.
The FTC needs to use their authority to challenge Amazon’s proposed acquisition of iRobot Corporation. It’s clear Amazon is gobbling up companies to reach its surveillance tentacles deeper into every aspect of our lives, with no regard for the civil rights disasters it leaves in its wake.
Amazon only cares about destroying any competition and reaping unparalleled profit. Take Amazon’s unchallenged MGM: it did not get blocked, and now MGM is planning a reality TV show to air footage from Ring surveillance cameras. This dangerous propaganda attempts to normalize surveillance and put a happy face on Amazon’s abuse. Such efforts will have a long-lasting impact, especially on our kids and their sense of control over their privacy and their bodies—both physical and digital.
We know the FTC cares about privacy rights. Right now, they are exploring rulemaking to address privacy abuses. That’s a great start, but any real effort to protect the public from surveillance and data abuse must include blocking clearly harmful acquisitions. If the FTC commissioners care about protecting privacy, communities of color, and pregnant people, they will challenge Amazon’s iRobot acquisition.”