Robots create all new methods of direct surveillance. When thinking of direct surveillance the common thoughts are of James Bond style spy devices. Hi-tech spy equipment designed to infiltrate and transmit would fit the idea of a surveillance robot, but in reality our privacy is likely to be invaded in much more mundane ways. Regular household items such as toys and household helper robots are constantly learning data about our daily lives. The level of retention and distribution of this data may constitute a threat to our personal privacy, and possibly unlawful search and seizure.
Issues surrounding robots and privacy are similar to the issues surrounding the internet. When browsing the internet we transmit data. Our IP address is sent to users we don’t know. Our browsing history is recorded. Retailers such as Amazon and eBay record our purchasing history. Direct conversations are recorded by email and instant message. Social media shares items from political opinions to photos and even our location in real time. The legal questions arise when addressing how this data is used, whether it is an item freely shared, or whether this data should be considered private.
An example of how seemingly innocuous data can be revealing can be illustrated by looking at Facebook. While it is commonly realized that liking certain pages can affect the ads seen on your personal Facebook page, a recent study has shown that this data can be used to create an entire personality profiles. This data is voluntarily shared, and would not constitute an illegal search or invasion of privacy, but it is illustrative to show how seemingly little data can show a lot of information.
An example of a seemingly innocuous robot in the home can be found by looking at chore robots such as the Neato XV-11, a new generation of floor cleaning robots. The Neato is highly reviewed for its ability to scan the entire room before cleaning, which prevents it from bumping into walls and scratching furniture. The question becomes what happens to this data after scanning. What could a thief do with the exact layout of every room in your home? Where is the data stored and does it transmit? Household robots record your daily habits, which can easily reveal more than you may intend. If these robots are willingly discarded by the owner, is it legal for another party to obtain this information? What about manufacturers or repairmen? Where is the line to the right to privacy drawn?
Finally there are robots that act like our stereotypical idea of robots. Household robots that have the ability to interact with us have become popularized in fiction such as Rosie on the Jetsons. Built for both children and adults, robots such as the Rovio have high data collection capabilities. Data is recorded in audio and video, and the robot wirelessly communicates. These robots have the ability to provide direct surveillance about our daily lives and conversations. Will search warrants in the future have the right to search household robots? The increased use of robotics in the home will lead to increased issues concerning privacy and the law. As with the internet it may take time to establish a precedent for this data use, as situations will be constantly evolving.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Kate’s blog.)