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Amazon faces FTC probe over iRobot acquisition

A review will weigh up concerns over the tech giant's domination of the home tech market, and potential for Roomba data collection

The Amazon logo, with a blue arrow rather than orange, displayed on the side of a large warehouse building

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has opened a review into Amazon’s planned acquisition of consumer robotics company iRobot, according to a report by Politico.

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Citing two sources with close knowledge of the probe, Politico stated that the FTC is now assessing whether the deal is in breach of antitrust law. The tech giant’s existing stake in the smart home device market, such as its Ring doorbell systems and Alexa smart assistant, could lead the FTC to conclude that the addition of Roomba devices would give the company an unfair advantage in the sector.

Last month, Amazon announced plans to buy iRobot, best known for its bestselling vacuum cleaning robot Roomba, for $1.7 billion. In a press release, the company outlined its intent to pay for the deal in an all-cash transaction, at $61 per share of iRobot.

Concerns have also been raised around the ability of Roombas to map the interior of customers’ houses. It has been suggested that this could give Amazon an unfair AdTech advantage if it used the data to accurately suggest items such as new furniture to its customers.

The CMA is also investigating Amazon for alleged misuse of third-party seller data, which it could be utilising to give its own retail products an unfair advantage.

Consumer rights groups such as Public Citizen have criticised the acquisition, citing the potential for privacy violations and Amazon’s growing dominance over consumer home devices. In July, it was discovered that Amazon had given police departments in the United States access to footage from its Ring camera systems without user consent 11 times in the past year.

“The last thing American and the world needs is Amazon vacuuming up even more of our personal information,” stated Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“This is not just about Amazon selling another device in its marketplace. It’s about the company gaining still more intimate details of our lives to gain unfair market advantage and sell us more stuff.

“Federal regulators should not allow Amazon to suck up IRobot/Roomba. Amazon should not be permitted to leverage its retail market power to expand its market share of connected home devices.”

Responding to the question of consumer privacy, Amazon stated that:

"Protecting customer data has always been incredibly important to Amazon, and we think we’ve been very good stewards of peoples’ data across all of our businesses.  Customer trust is something we have worked hard to earn —and work hard to keep— every day.

"We use customer data to improve customers’ experiences with our products and services and to support our partners; we don’t sell customer data to third parties or use customer data for purposes that customers haven’t consented to. In this case, the deal is not closed, so we don’t have anything to share yet.

Amazon stressed that until the deal was complete, "Amazon and iRobot will continue to operate independently to serve their customers as they do today."

If the FTC approves the acquisition, iRobot will to Amazon’s growing robotics portfolio. In June, Amazon announced a new generation of the robots that it uses for heavy lifting, loading, and stock movement purposes throughout fulfilment centres. They will be the first able to operate fully autonomously, and alongside human warehouse workers.

IT Pro has approached iRobot and the FTC for comment.

This article was updated to include a statement from Amazon.

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