A disturbing look into the spy state
Posted BY: Kelen McBreen
A recent report published by MIT Technology Review revealed the Amazon-owned iRobot Roomba devices cleaning the floors of houses across the world are also capturing private images from within the homes.
Some images of people on the toilet and in other uncomfortable and private scenarios were shared online to private Facebook and Discord groups by Venezuelan software contractors in 2020.
The author of the MIT article, Eileen Guo, posted to Twitter about the findings, writing, “I investigated the origins of 15 video stills taken from inside homes by robot vacuums and shared to social media—some featuring humans in VERY candid positions, face clearly visible—and wrote abt the supply chain of data used to train AI.”
NEW FROM ME: I investigated the origins of 15 video stills taken from inside homes by robot vacuums and shared to social media—some featuring humans in VERY candid positions, faces clearly visible—and wrote abt the supply chain of data used to train AI. https://t.co/BbkCFzkJ79— Eileen Guo (@eileenguo) December 19, 2022
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The images were not taken by a person, but by development versions of iRobot’s Roomba J7 series robot vacuum. They were then sent to Scale AI, a startup that contracts workers around the world to label audio, photo, and video data used to train artificial intelligence.
They were the sorts of scenes that internet-connected devices regularly capture and send back to the cloud—though usually with stricter storage and access controls. Yet earlier this year, MIT Technology Review obtained 15 screenshots of these private photos, which had been posted to closed social media groups.
See one of the images from Guo’s article below:
A total of 15 images were shared with MIT Technology Review, but they are just a small portion of the over 2 million images stored by Scale AI and the millions of images other data platforms used by tech companies.
Author and Oxford professor Carissa Véliz pointed out in a tweet that this also means a person could hypothetically be monitoring the feeds coming from the devices.
"It’s not just a robot vacuum watching you on the toilet—a person may be looking too." #privacy #surveillance #AIEthicshttps://t.co/Uzo9YX68kO— Carissa Véliz (@CarissaVeliz) December 26, 2022
In response to the leaked images, the CEO of iRobot, Colin Angle, told the MIT Technology Review: “iRobot is terminating its relationship with the service provider who leaked the images, is actively investigating the matter, and [is] taking measures to help prevent a similar leak by any service provider in the future.”