Roomba robot vacuum data annotation sharing

Occurred: December 2022

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Sensitive photographs used to train iRobot vacuum cleaners, including of a young woman sitting on the toilet, have been shared on social media. The discovery prompted privacy advocates to question the effectiveness of iRobot data protection practices, and shed light on the data training industry supply chain.

MIT Technology Review writes that the images were taken by development versions of iRobot’s Roomba J7 series robot vacuum, and were posted online by Venezuelan contractors to San Francisco-based Scale AI, a start-up that uses low-cost gig workers to annotate audio, photo, and video data used to train artificial intelligence systems.

According to iRobot, the photos came from 'special development robots with hardware and software modifications that are not and never were present on iRobot consumer products for purchase.' The images, the company says, were 'shared in violation of a written non-disclosure agreement between iRobot and an image annotation service provider.'

iRobot declined to share the consent agreements with Technology Review, nor make any of its paid collectors or employees available to discuss their understanding of the terms. However, a follow-up article cites iRobot beta testers has 'failed spectacularly' to mention that personal images of their homes and children will be seen and analysed by other humans.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle later confirmed the company terminated its relationship with Scale AI as a result of the incident.

Operator: Amazon/iRobot; Scale AI
Developer: Amazon/iRobot
Country: USA; Venezuela
Sector: Consumer goods
Purpose: Clean floor
Technology: Robotics; Computer vision; IoT; Machine learning; Object recognition; Sensor
Issue: Privacy; Security; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance; Marketing; Legal

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: January 2023