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What your robot vacuum knows about you

These devices collect a lot of dirt – they also clean. Here’s what they could have on you and how you can protect your privacy.

Last updated: 13 June 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Robot vacuums are becoming smarter and easier to use, but require more of our personal information to perform at their best
  • The latest devices can map our homes and record what’s in them, get to know our pets and even record live videos
  • Giving over this information can make your vacuum more efficient, but there are risks to be aware of

Scooting around our homes, sucking up dust and debris, robot vacs can make an attractive addition to our household cleaning arsenal.

CHOICE has been regularly testing robot vacuums for 12 years and in that time they've become smarter and packed with more features.

"Robot vacuum mapping, obstacle avoidance and general app features have gotten much more advanced [and] give the user much more control," explains CHOICE robot vacuum tester Adrian Lini.

"These features can be pretty useful and give the user much more customisability, but they also require the user to give away more information about themselves and their home in order to work to their full potential."

So what details could your robot vacuum be collecting on you?

We've looked at some of the latest (and smartest) robot vacuums on the market, from brands such as iRobot, Ecovacs and Dreame, to find out.

The data you robot vacuum could be collecting on you

Maps of your home

robot vacuum map

Your robot vacuum will likely create maps of the areas where it's used.

All but one of the 12 robot vacuums we looked at in our latest review create maps of the spaces where they're used, with some promising to "learn your home" and prioritise the dirtiest rooms.

Lini says live mapping is one of the most useful features robot vacuums offer users.

"It allows the robot to know the most efficient way to clean the space and also lets the user schedule which rooms should be cleaned and when, without having to physically put the robot there," he explains.

"It will also show the user how the space has been cleaned and if any parts have been missed."

Some of the smartest robo vacs create sophisticated 3D diagrams of household spaces, which you can view via a connected app on your smartphone.

Robot vacuum companies say allowing their products to map your home lets them identify the areas they've already cleaned and perform more efficiently.

Where does the data go?

If the thought of someone having access to a detailed floor plan of your home bothers you, it's worth knowing how this information is stored.

Some brands such as Arlec and Roborock tell us that maps of customer homes are kept on the robot itself and not uploaded elsewhere.

Others say mapping information is sent to a secure server, especially if users request to view it in the device's relevant app.

Household objects


Many of the latest robot vacuums use cameras and AI to identify what's in your home. Image: Ecovacs

Several of the models we looked at in our latest test also claim to be able to use cameras and AI to identify and recognise the objects in your home.

Lini says this function helps ensure a vacuum will cover all the space it needs to clean.

"Sometimes a robot will miss a whole area because it believes it was blocked off when really it was a small item that could have been pushed out of the way or driven over," he notes.

Some manufacturers even say their devices are specially trained to be able to identify your pets and be more careful around them and any mess they leave.

CHOICE tip: We test robot vacuums on how good they are at removing pet hair. Check our reviews to see how different models compare.

Most of the obstacles a robot vacuum will likely be identifying are everyday items such as furniture, although some brands claim their models are able to recognise over 100 different objects. 

As handy as it claims to be, this feature hasn't come without controversy. In 2020, intimate images taken by robot vacuums of people in their homes (even using the toilet) were posted online, according to MIT Technology Review.

The publication reports that the pictures were shared by workers who had been tasked by the vacuum manufacturer with identifying household objects the vacuum saw, in order to train its recognition system.

The manufacturer, iRobot, told MIT Technology Review the images were captured by models that were in development and not available to consumers and the people whose homes they were in knew the vacuums were sending video data to the company.


Advanced robot vacuums claim to be able to remember over 100 of your household items. Image: Roborock

Where does the data go?

So could your robot vacuum be sharing images of your home with strangers? It depends on what it sees.

When we questioned brands whose products claim to be able to recognise household items, some said these pictures are automatically deleted after the vacuum itself has identified what it is.

Others said images are stored on a cloud server if a user requests to view them on the vacuum's connected app.

It will take a photo and ask the user if they consent to the image being shared with the company for further investigation

Different processes can emerge, however, if your robot encounters something it doesn't recognise.

For example, in a policy outlining the privacy practices of its robot vacuums, Ecovacs explains that if a vac comes across something it can't identify, it will take a photo and ask the user if they consent to the image being shared with the company for further investigation.

If permission is granted and the company's AI is also unable to recognise the object, the image will then be shared with and viewed by employees of Ecovacs' China-based affiliates.

Ecovacs didn't respond to our request for comment, but it's worth noting that its privacy policy also clarifies that its devices work to "eliminate the possibility" of identifying a person in images by blurring areas where it detects the shape of a human body.

Live video and app information

home monitoring robot samsung

Some robot vacuums can capture live video and save recordings to the cloud.

Some newer robot vacuum models allow users to remotely access the appliance's camera via an app so they can monitor their home from the device's point of view as it carries out its cleaning duties.

Dreame, one brand with models that do this, told us the camera doesn't capture and store any photos or videos when this function is being used unless users decide to save footage themselves while viewing it on their phone. In this case, photos and videos will be stored on a cloud server.

Finally, it's also worth noting that the aforementioned apps are becoming integral to owning and operating a robot vacuum.

While these new access avenues are a boon for usability and efficiency, they also gather their fair share of data.

For example, the apps attached to many of the robot vacuums we've looked at record not just the personal and contact details you'll need to give over to set up an account, but also location information and your activity on the app.

Is any data shared with third parties?

As mentioned previously, problems with a robot vacuums' image recognition function may lead to images of your home being shared with individuals and organisations outside of you and the vacuum's manufacturer.

In day-to-day functioning as well, some robot vacuums will share information with third parties.

Dreame, for example, says it may share user data with separate entities for storage or to carry out services for customers, such as delivering its products.

Others say they only share data to improve "device functioning and customer support" and not for advertising or marketing. Others told us they don't share any consumer information at all, while some companies didn't respond to our queries.

How to protect your data when using a robot vacuum

Option 1: Choose a model that isn't 'smart'

First up, if you're concerned about privacy, consider getting a robot vacuum that doesn't connect to the internet, and has no app or smart features such as mapping and AI object recognition.

But be aware of their downsides: "Robots with no mapping may clean randomly and miss large areas," Lini explains.

"They also don't tell the user where they've cleaned, meaning you'll have to guess, and some also have no way of knowing when they've covered the whole area, so will clean for much longer than necessary."

Option 2: Buy a smart model, but take precautions

Lini says anyone wanting to use and get the most out of a smarter model will have to provide information about themselves and their home in return.

"The more complex and specific the job, the more privacy you need to be willing to lose," he says.

"At the end of the day, these are products that clean your home for you – they're going to know quite a lot about you if you want to use all the features."

But if you are concerned about the privacy issues associated with buying a robot vacuum, there are some strategies you can adopt to limit your risk:

  • Look for a model that allows you to set "no go" areas or virtual walls in your home – these can be configured to keep it out of sensitive areas.
  • Pay close attention to any information about privacy that comes with the product, or look up the manufacturer's privacy policy online.
  • When setting up the robot vacuum and app, be aware of any requests for consent to share information or to opt-in to similar processes.
  • Know that saving or viewing mapping information, photos or videos recorded by your vacuum on its app could also mean that data is being uploaded to an external server.

Remember that data your robot vacuum collects may be viewed by others in certain circumstances.

"The type of information generated by robot vacuums is highly valuable," says CHOICE consumer data advocate Rafi Alam. 

"People should be wary of agreeing to anything that lets businesses have free reign over their personal data."

If you're prompted to share images taken by your vacuum to aid in object recognition, Alam advises considering what's featured in the image and the privacy practices of the vacuum company.

"It's important to be aware of the risks when sharing images with the manufacturer, especially when these images may be shared with third parties," he explains.

"Robot vacuums might be operating discreetly in very intimate places in our home, and once that data is collected and shared it may be vulnerable to privacy breaches."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.