Roomba says leaked photos, including one of a woman on the toilet, were taken by test vacuums, not purchased vacuums

Robot vacuums like Roomba could pose data privacy risks, experts say.Roborock

  • Robot vacuum maker iRobot has confirmed that sensitive images leaked online were taken by its devices.

  • Roomba said the images, including that of a woman in the bathroom, were only taken by test units.

  • The images were leaked by Venezuelan entrepreneurs from Scale AI that worked with iRobot, reported MIT Tech Review.

Roomba robot vacuums captured sensitive images that were later leaked to social media – including that of a woman sitting on the toilet – but the machine’s maker says they were taken by test models, and not by consumer units, MIT Tech Review first reported.

iRobot, which makes Roomba, said the autonomous vacuums were being used by “data collectors and paid employees” as test units that would help the company develop its machine learning capabilities. The disclosure comes as Amazon pushes for a $1.7 billion deal to buy iRobot, raising questions about how tech companies use and protect the data they collect.

The data from these test units was marked by a contractor, noting for example whether the robot was able to navigate around an obstacle, such as a coffee table. But images of that data have been leaked to Facebook, Discord and other social sites, MIT Tech Review reported and iRobot confirmed to Insider.

The images included a woman in a purple shirt, her face blurred, sitting on the toilet, the Tech Review reported, and a child lying face down as he stared at the object recording him.

The images were leaked by paid Venezuelan contractors at data startup Scale AI who posted them to private groups on Facebook, Discord and other platforms in 2020, MIT Tech Review reported.

Even if the images aren’t from Roomba’s customers, consumers often choose to have their data monitored once they’ve purchased “smart” devices under the company’s privacy policies. Manufacturers of smart devices sometimes analyze data, which can sometimes include personal or sensitive details, to train algorithms to improve their products.

James Baussmann, a spokesperson for iRobot, confirmed the leaked photos to Insider. When asked for further comment, Baussman referred Insider to a blog post by iRobot President and CEO Colin Angle.

Angle wrote that the test bots contained hardware and software modifications that were never commercially available to consumers. And Baussmann told Insider that “iRobot has strict data processing agreements in place with our service providers that require sensitive data to be treated as confidential information.”

In this case, Scale AI contractors — also known as data labelers — worked on a project for iRobot to tag photos so robot vacuums could better recognize objects in their environment, according to MIT. TechReview.

Data labelers are poorly paid contract workers outside the United States. Experts who spoke to the labelers told the MIT Tech Review they found the job “really uncomfortable.”

iRobot told Insider that sharing internal images with social media groups violates Scale AI’s confidentiality agreements and is ending its relationship with San Francisco-based Scale AI. Scale AI told the review that its data labelers who shared the images had broken their own agreements. Insider has reached out to Scale AI for additional comment.

Meanwhile, more than 95% of iRobot’s image dataset comes from the homes of iRobot employees or volunteers from other third-party data providers who agree to use development devices in exchange of undisclosed awards, according to the review.

Advanced devices like iRobot’s Roomba J7 series move around homes and contain built-in front cameras for navigation, object recognition, and home monitoring.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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