FTC investigates Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot • The Register

The US Federal Trade Commission is investigating Amazon’s proposed acquisition of iRobot, robot vacuum maker Roomba, and has asked the tech couple for more information about the deal.

Amazon announced plans to acquire iRobot in a $1.7 billion cash deal last month. The acquisition isn’t surprising given that the e-commerce giant has steadily expanded its home electronics empire, offering devices from Amazon Alexa smart speakers to Ring security doorbell cameras.

And who could forget the dubbed robot butler Astro which seems to still be available by invitation only nearly a year after its launch. No wonder Amazon wants Roomba’s secrets.

However, the takeover of iRobot is under scrutiny by the FTC. The regulator this week asked Amazon and its target for more details about the proposed merger, a move that could stall the deal for months while FTC officials pored over the filing. The takeover is subject to the approval of the supervisory authority.

This comes after privacy activists sent a public letter to the regulator asking officials to block the deal.

“In connection with the merger, iRobot and Amazon filed on the 19th ” i Robot written down in an SEC filing Tuesday.

“On September 19, 2022, iRobot and Amazon each received a request for additional information and documentation from the FTC related to the FTC’s review of the merger. The second request is a next step in the regulatory review process.”

That open letter — authored by Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy organization, and their friends — claimed that if the acquisition is cleared, Amazon will continue to dominate the smart home device market to the detriment of smaller businesses and consumers.

Not only that, but Amazon will also own a company that sells robots that map and explore people’s homes.

“There is no more private space than home. But with this acquisition, Amazon gains access to extremely intimate facts about our most private spaces that are otherwise unavailable or unavailable to other competitors,” the Sept. 9 letter reads.

“This information goes beyond house floorplans and includes very detailed information about home furnishings and the lifestyle of the occupants. Giving Amazon access to this type of private information through this acquisition harms consumers.

Once the data is collected, there is no way to prevent its use for even more intrusive surveillance

“Amazon uses data not only to further its anti-competitive goals, as detailed above, but also to feed data-hungry algorithms that attempt to predict and shape the behavior of individual consumers. Far from being neutral pieces of computer code, these algorithms, coupled with Amazon’s global impact, are exacerbating racial and gender systems of oppression.

“The acquisition of iRobot brings these risks into our homes, and once the data is collected there is no way to prevent its use for even more intrusive surveillance and other anti-competitive behavior.”

The FTC too started an investigation into Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical earlier this month. The web giant has a thorny relationship with the Trade Inspectorate, particularly after big-tech arch-critic Lina Khan was appointed chair of the commission. Khan has written a widely cited work [PDF] for the Yale Law Journal, which focused on antitrust concerns with Amazon.

Amazon and iRobot declined to comment. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/09/21/ftc_amazon_irobot_one_medial/ FTC investigates Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot • The Register

Laura Coffey

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