Household helper or sneaky spy? Privacy questions in robot cleaners

  • TECH
  • Saturday, 09 Feb 2019

Robot vacuum cleaners are so good at their jobs now, you may feel like you'll never have to break out the old machine again. But wait ... what are these little helpers recording with their cameras, and who else gets to see what they see? — dpa

Robot vacuum cleaners are no novelty in the world of smart and connected homes. But as our appliances and devices are increasingly connecting to each other, it's important to be aware of the data risks these gadgets bring with them.

High-end robot vacuum cleaners are constantly connected to the manufacturer's servers and other online services, and can therefore pose a risk to your privacy.

This is where a cheaper model may be better, because they do not use cameras create a map of your home to navigate across the house like high-end appliances do.

The cheaper cleaners only have sensors that prevent them from colliding with furniture or falling down stairs, which can sometimes make them less efficient at getting the job done.

The navigation abilities of the high-end robots come from cameras, infrared sensors, laser sensors and ultrasound sensors, which create a detailed map of the room, or rooms, including all windows and doors.

This data can usually be seen in the robot device's app – which means they are being transferred to your smartphone via the Internet, and often also via the manufacturer's server. The robot vacuum cleaner can probably also give out information on whether you are home or not – depending on whether it is turned on or off.

This type of risk could be true for many other smart home appliances, and hackers may be able to use access to one to gain access to others. So if you have one application that connects and controls all your appliances, this could be exploited.

You should also check to see if appliances can access any other settings on your smartphone – data it may then send to companies and online services. – dpa
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