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The Internet of Things is a data farm, Roomba won’t be its only profiteer

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The Internet of Things, a giant web of connected devices, is ever expanding and it’s predicted there will be 8.4 billionconnected items online by the end of this year. Fridges, toothbrushes, trashcans and even horses are being given the capability to connect to the internet. Every time another device comes online, more data can be harvested by its creators.

For customers, what’s done with this data is largely unknown. iRobot, the company that makes the adorable Roomba robots that trundle around your home sucking up everything in their path, has revealed its plans to sell maps of living rooms to the world’s biggest tech companies.

Using onboard cameras, sensors, and software, Roombas are able to accurately create a picture of the environment they work in and where they’re positioned. Colin Angle, the chief executive of Roomba has revealed, in an interview with Reuters, that the firm hopes to make money from this information.

Angle said the firm is planning to sell the maps of homes Roomba has generated to Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet. He expects a deal with at least one of the firms in the next two years. The decision has been met with scepticism but Roomba won’t be the only company with an IoT device that’s looking at this option.

“Roomba classically has a product business model – you buy the product for cash and it does what you tell it to do,” Pilgrim Beart, the founder of IoT management service DevicePilot, tells WIRED. “That’s been the classic business model for things for hundreds of years”.

“But now as the things get connected to the internet they become services and there’s a lot of potential value in that ongoing service,” he says. “You think you’ve bought a product not a service, yet there is this ongoing service element”.

The IoT brings with it the possibility of new types of data that haven’t been collected before. Health devices and wearables are able to gather detailed metrics about a person’s health and wellbeing, for instance. Beart says products being turned into data collecting machines include autonomous vehicles and other smart home products, such as thermostats. The potential for monetising this data is huge. Advertisers are always looking for more insights about potential customers and their behaviours.

Selling customer data to make money isn’t a new process. Many free online services – such as Google’s Gmail and Facebook – use customer data for their own purposes. And the data market for personal information is booming.

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