Do you ever get that creepy feeling that you’re being watched? It may sound like you’ve watched too many scary movies but you may actually be onto something. That is, if you own a robot vacuum cleaner or any other smart homeware devices.
A recent report discovered that images taken by Roomba vacuums had been shared to social media by workers hired to monitor the images. Some of the images sparked privacy concerns and showed a young woman sitting on the toilet, and others showed young children inside their homes.
The MIT Technology Review reported that the gig-workers were based outside of the USA, and broke a non-disclosure agreement by sharing the photos.
The Roombas took the photos while doing their rounds for the purpose of data annotation. This is where humans go through the data and confirm or deny if the AI has labelled things correctly, for example, “nope that’s a dog not a chair”.
According to iRobot who owned Roomba at the time, everyone had agreed to the data collection. However, it’s quite possible that most customers did not fully understand that there would be a real live human with access to the images. As MIT says, there’s quite a big difference between consenting to a machine taking photos of the inside of your house while it cleans the floor, and another inviting a person with a camera into your home and witnessing intimate moments.
That is essentially what is happening. MIT believe that these images may just be “the tip of the iceberg” with data and images captured by devices in our homes.
And many of us have a lot of these devices. Without sounding alarmist, we have devices that link to various clouds, controlled by big tech firms. They are capable of recording audio, snapping photos and video, homing in on particular words in conversations. We aren’t being bugged by secret spyware, we have wilfully installed it ourselves in our own homes in most cases.
For most of us, it’s really no big concern, so far. But how do we feel about some people on the internet viewing images of ourselves sitting on the toilet, making love, or even watching our young children play? It just all feels a bit creepy if you ask me. We are quick to accept leaps in technology without asking enough questions. AI has much positive potential, but we are now beginning to learn the downsides of it too.