Federal Antitrust Regulators Urged To Block Amazon Purchase Of Roomba Manufacturer

Amazon’s proposed purchase of iRobot Corp. has led more than two dozen workers’ and privacy rights groups to write to the federal agencies charged with antitrust regulation urging the merger be blocked. IRobot is the manufacturer of the popular self-propelled Roomba brand vacuum cleaners.

The letter says that if the deal goes through it will give Amazon too much control over the market for smart-home devices. The groups argue that Amazon will be able to sell the famous Roomba brand “at or near a loss via the Prime subscription,” which would in turn allow the retail giant to “buttress its anti-competitive advantages online.”

Amazon announced the proposed acquisition of iRobot last month for a price of $1.7 billion. Amazon, which already owns Ring and Alexa, has at least one of its devices in almost one-third of U.S. homes.

The letter claims that Amazon is seeking to “minimize fair competition” by accessing and exploiting the digital shopping data of consumers not available to other market participants. It also says the tech giant is attempting to “unduly expand its market power by eliminating a competitor through acquisition, rather than through organic growth.”

The groups pointed out to regulators that Americans’ homes are their most private spaces, and the proposed acquisition will allow Amazon to “gain access to extremely intimate facts about our most private spaces that are not available through other means, or to other competitors.”

The proposed deal is now under review by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which normally would address whether it “will illegally increase Amazon’s market share in the connected device market and the retail market.”

There is a current FTC antitrust investigation of Amazon that deals with the processes the company uses to allow customers to sign-up and cancel membership in the Prime program.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote to Amazon in June regarding its smart-home Ring devices. He claimed the company is capturing “significant amounts of audio on private and public property adjacent to dwellings with Ring doorbells.” Markey said that the devices could compromise privacy rights and the ability to “assemble, move, and converse without being tracked” at risk.

The Massachusetts senator called on Amazon to modify the capabilities of Ring doorbells so that audio will not be automatically recorded.

Gizmodo asked Amazon for comment on their reporting regarding complaints about the iRobot purchase but did not receive an immediate response.