A Roomba Recorded a Woman Using the Bathroom, and the Pictures Wound Up on Social Media. Could That Happen to You?

An MIT Technology Review investigation might make you think twice about what you do when your Roomba is rolling by.

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By Dan Bova

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Some people feel uncomfortable getting dressed or using the bathroom in front of their pet dog. But most of us don't give a second thought to what we do in front of the little robo-butler zipping around our homes.

But a recent investigation might change all that. MIT Technology Review's Eileen Guoarchive wrote a story that might have you commanding your Roomba to knock before it comes into your room.

In 2020, an image of a woman sitting on a toilet, as well as several others capturing intimate moments, that were collected by Roombas found their way into closed social media groups.

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Now, there is an explanation for how this happened, which is simultaneously relieving and upsetting.

iRobot confirmed to MIT Technology Review that the images were, in fact, captured by Roombas. But it wasn't a hack or anything nefarious. It was part of a program to develop their high-end Roomba J7's AI capabilities. iRobot broke down the details in a statement, highlighted here:

  • They were not consumer Roombas — they were specially outfitted with recording equipment for this development program.
  • People were paid to participate in the program and knew the Roombas would be sending data and video back to the company.
  • The devices were labeled with a bright green sticker that read "video recording in progress."
  • Participants were cautioned to keep anything sensitive out of spaces that the robots would be cleaning in.

But how, exactly, did the photos get posted on social media?

The images and video were sent by iRobot to a startup called Scale AI, which uses a global workforce to label audio, photo, and video for a process called data annotation. An investigation revealed that Venezuelan gig workers posted the toilet bowl pic and other images to private groups on Facebook, Discord, and other platforms to collaborate on their work.

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After MIT Technology contacted iRobot about this incident, they received an email from iRobot CEO Colin Angle, stating: "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."

Feel better about that little motorized guy who just swept up your Cheetos crumbs? Didn't think so. Our advice? Keep your bathroom door closed when you are using it. And, honestly, that goes for whether you have a Roomba or not.

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his humor writing at Planet Bova.

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