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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has officially started an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s plans to acquire robot vacuum maker iRobot for $1.7 billion. Politico reports the FTC is investigating a number of potential issues.
The FTC’s investigation will reportedly focus on whether the data provided by iRobot’s Roomba robot vacuum gives Amazon an unfair advantage in the retail industry. For example, Amazon could have an advantage with a consumer looking to buy a couch by using detailed home maps generated by iRobot to suggest particular items.
The investigation will also reportedly look at how the line of robot vacuums would fit in with Amazon’s existing smart home products, like Ring and Alexa.
In a recent podcast episode of The Robot Report Podcast, we discussed many of these concerns with the acquisition, including data privacy, and how Amazon might use shopper information to influence buyer behavior, or even influence the product roadmap for iRobot, based on purchase history of competitive solutions.
Amazon also sells Astro, a high-end robot that can deliver drinks and keep an eye on your house, but it hasn’t caught on with customers. Astro, which is available by invitation only, does not have a vacuum and is little more than Alexa with wheels.
This deal is important to the future of iRobot, but a lengthy FTC investigation will drag out the deal’s closing date. Whatever potential future product concepts might be possible with the combination of Amazon and iRobot will have to wait until this investigation is completed.
The deal could also be stopped, which would be bad news for both iRobot and Amazon. iRobot has been at the forefront of consumer robotics for years. With additional funding and room for creativity, the company could soon introduce intriguing new products.
According to Politico, Amazon reiterated its past statements about the iRobot deal, saying it will employ all necessary safeguards for consumer data. iRobot CEO Colin Angle last week wrote about the company’s approach to customer data. He wrote that “iRobot does not – and will not – sell customers’ personal information. Our customers control the personal information they provide us, and we use that information to improve robot performance and the customer’s ability to directly control a mission.”