Robot vacuum cleaner could be next spy in your home

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Data-mining is the process of turning raw data into useful information and every day companies find more ways to make money selling data they collect from consumers.

That data can come from unusual places, like your vacuum cleaner. Take iRobot’s Roomba for example.

As the Roomba rolls around your home, it’s sucking up more than dirt. It’s sucking up information.

No, it’s not listening to your conversations, but it is learning about your home and what’s in it — and that is valuable data.

“My Roombas help me keep control of my very chaotic house,” says Lyndsey Gibson who has two kids, two dogs, two cats and a significant other “who all create messes that the Roomba helps me manage.”

Gibson likes the Roomba so much she has two, one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

As it goes about the job the Roomba robot is constantly updating the maps it makes of a home to keep it from running into things.

Here’s how it works: Roomba’s software captures images of a room, and compares the images to gradually build a map — essentially creating a blueprint of your home.

Eventually, Roomba’s maker says it would like to share that data with third parties.

“Mapping out my floor plan is one thing, but knowing the contents of my house is a different story,” says Gibson.

The Wi-Fi versions of the Roomba are now compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and the company says that if it decides to share that data, it will be transmitted by Wi-Fi. Some experts say that can be a slippery slope.

“The Roomba of tomorrow might be able to scan what furniture you own and figure out the income of your home or your TV watching habits based on what this Roomba is picking up,” said Jamie Lee Williams of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Roomba’s makers say they won’t share information it collects without the informed consent of its customers.

“I don’t want it spying on me. That’s really concerning,” says Gibson.

If you’re leery about that, the Wi-Fi function of your Roomba can be disabled by just pressing the spot clean, clean and home buttons simultaneously for 15 seconds. Once you hear the tone, the Roomba will be reset to factory settings.

But, beware — with a factory reset to disable the Wi-Fi function the Roomba loses features like voice control, the ability to use the mobile app to remotely schedule a cleaning or any other settings that were programmed into the unit.

However, you’ll keep your room mapping data to yourself.

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