Amazon Sucks Up iRobot In Merger With Bigger Implications Than Cleaning House

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Amazon published a press release this morning announcing that it has entered into a merger agreement with iRobot, the company best known for its Roomba line of robot vacuum cleaners. So long as the deal receives shareholder and regulatory approval, Amazon will acquire iRobot for a $61 per share, totaling approximately $1.7 billion. The merger will leave iRobot’s current CEO, Colin Angle, in that position.

Angle said the following about the acquisition: “Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I cannot think of a better place for our team to continue our mission.” Dave Limp, SVP of Amazon Devices, also spoke enthusiastically about the merger, “Customers love iRobot products—and I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent in ways that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.”

While the press release highlights convenience that Amazon and iRobot hope to bring to customers with this merger, it doesn’t speak to the deeper implications that may underlie the provision of this convenience. Amazon is working to build a comprehensive smart home ecosystem with the company’s Alexa voice assistant at the center. Besides Alexa, Amazon also owns Ring and Blink, two home security camera companies, as well as Eero, a provider of Wi-Fi mesh devices. A number of iRobot’s Roombas already have built-in Alexa support, so iRobot will likely fit into Amazon’s smart home ecosystem well.

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Representation of a Roomba’s home mapping ability (Source: iRobot)

However, there are reasons why Roomba owners may not want this kind of integration. Behind Roombas’ ability to autonomously navigate physical spaces while vacuuming is their ability to map home floor plans, as well as the furniture and other obstacles within homes, and store that information. iRobot recently launched its iRobot OS, which integrates with a home knowledge cloud that is intended to share information about homes and their inhabitants with various smart home devices beyond just Roombas. This information includes knowledge of when homes and even individual rooms are vacant or occupied.

Amazon has a history of collecting large amounts of user data from its products and those of its subsidiaries, and iRobot has previously expressed interest in selling Roomba mapping data to Amazon, as well as Google and Apple. However, this merger will most likely give Amazon direct access to all iRobot user data, including information stored in its home knowledge cloud. Amazon accessing this data may concern some customers, as the company may use it to more precisely micro-target products at customers. Amazon is also known to share Ring security camera footage with police without requiring user consent or a warrant. iRobot’s latest Roomba model, the j7 series, has an AI-powered front facing camera, and Amazon may be similarly willing to share footage from this camera, as well as other information gleaned from iRobot’s home knowledge cloud. Suffice it to say, this acquisition may have undesirable implications for iRobot customers.