A group of some 20 pro-privacy and worker organizations, including Public Citizen and Fight for the Future, urged U.S. antitrust enforcers Friday to stop Amazon.com from buying iRobot Corp, maker of the robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba.
In their letter, the groups argued the deal would strengthen the already powerful position in smart home devices of the world’s second-largest retailer. “By selling the Roomba brand at or near a loss via the Prime subscription, the company can access more personal consumer data to buttress its anti-competitive advantages online,” the groups said in the letter.
This would hurt people concerned about privacy, as well as competitors who do not have access to the information, they argued.
Amazon attempted to assuage these concerns in its August press release announcing the deal. Dave Limp, Senior Vice President of Amazon Devices argued that “saving time matters, and chores take precious time that can be better spent doing something that customers love.” He implied that iRobots’ technology, integrated with Amazon’s own devices, like the Amazon Echo and Alexa,would help, “reinvent how people clean.”
Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot, who will stay on if the acquisition goes through, added: “Since we started iRobot, our team has been on a mission to create innovative, practical products that” such as, “the Roomba and iRobot OS … that empower people to do more at home.”
Opponents are worried the deal will do anything but empower, claiming that non-whites could be hurt particularly hard by any loss of privacy related to the deal.
“Civil rights groups have been sounding the alarm on the dangers that Amazon’s network of smart home surveillance devices pose to Black and brown communities, specifically those stemming from the mass of data collected by these devices,” they wrote.
The $1.7 billion deal, which was announced in August, was the latest push by Amazon, which already owns Alexa and Ring, into smart home devices. It is being reviewed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which has a separate antitrust probe underway of Amazon.
Amazon.com did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
iRobot declined to comment.
Other signatories included International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Main Street Alliance, Demand Progress Education Fund, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Open Markets Institute.
Reuters contributed to this article.