I love modern conveniences. Cruise control, gas grills, TV remotes: I’m an unabashed fan. But this whole IOT invasion of smart assistants like Siri and Alexa and Cortana skeeves me out. Even my dog Hank hates it. There’s a house on our daily walk where a Landroid robotic lawn mower rolls endlessly back and forth and he growls at that thing every time we pass.
So last week, when iRobot CEO Colin Angle mused about the value of the data their high end Roomba vacuums collect, it stopped me cold.
Seriously? Would he actually consider selling that information? He imagined it would help companies trying to advance smart home technology. Apparently Roombas create maps of the homes they clean and that room size and furniture dispersal data could prove very valuable to the Amazons, Apples, and Googles of the world. Oh, he also added something about getting customer consent, but really, his point was all about the value of the information his army of robots collect every hour of every day.
Following an increasingly familiar pattern, he began the very public walking back of his statements this week after his comments were widely picked up and raised alarms over invasions of privacy. With the help of his PR team, he tried to assure his customers that they’ll still be in control and it would be ‘entirely their choice’ whether they opted to share their data with other apps and programmers. Riiiight…
History hasn’t proven Silicon Valley to be much of a hotbed for morally-upstanding leadership. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook allows any website crackpot to post a page and advertise whatever hooey they dream up to a credulous audience numbering in the billions with little fear of correction. After thirteen years and god knows how many billions invested, Elizabeth Holmes, the non-biotech founder of former biotech darling Theranos, fudged results but never created a functioning blood test. And please tell me you’ve already deleted your Uber mobile app, given their inexcusable resistance to basic good business practices like background checks on their drivers. They loudly decry such requirements as profiling when their only real issue is margin protection.
We live in wonderful, amazing, and yet terrifying times. It can be very hard to find the truth in a world obsessed with spin and optimized Instagram feeds. But for me, at least for now, I’m staying old school. I’ll buy more beer when I notice I’m out of it; I don’t need advice from my Sub-Zero.