I have a history with vacuums.
When I was 11 years old, I disassembled the vacuum to see how the parts worked, then rushed to put it back together before my Mom got home. (It still worked.) From that experience, my brother nicknamed me Gadgetboy, so this post is quite fitting.
When my wife and I moved our family to Austin, we ended up buying a ginormous house, partly because my wife and I both needed home offices, partly because we like this community and couldn’t wait for a more suitably sized house to be built, since we had to enroll our son for the new school year.
We haven’t regretted our purchase, except for the one thing we didn’t consider: cleaning it.
Cleaning a house of this size is an all-day affair for two adults. We finally admitted defeat and hired someone to do it a couple of times a month, but that’s still not enough – especially when there are two teenagers, two adults and two dogs living here. The dark wood floors ultimately get covered in tumble weeds of dog hair mixed with crumbs from dog treats.
My wife and I both work crazy hours and the last thing we want to do is have to clean again in between cleaning service, so I began exploring robot vacuums.
For years, the only good robot vacuum was a Roomba. It was crazy expensive and never quite as good as a traditional vacuum, but a lot has changed in the past few years. You can find a decent robot vacuum for around $200 these days which will work fine for a small house or apartment.
But our needs are a little different. We needed something that could clean our ground floor relatively quickly and consistently. But before I share my experience, let me give you a quick rundown of considerations when buying one of these suckers.
- Suction power
- Battery life
- Bin size
- Ability to work on hard floors and carpet
That’s about it.
(If you really want to geek out when shopping for a robot vacuum, visit the Vacuum Wars YouTube channel. Yes, that’s a thing.)
In addition to the above, there is one critical and sometimes overlooked feature of a robot vacuum, especially for larger homes.
There are basically two types of navigation: the random, bumping-around-the-house-until-it’s-clean type, and the more intelligent, S-patterned type.
Inexpensive robot vacuums will basically just bounce off of objects around your home until its onboard software determines that it has covered the area it’s supposed to clean. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but in larger homes, it can take a long time, especially since it will vacuum over spots it has already cleaned until it has completely covered the floor. This approach also makes it more likely that the robot needs to return to the dock to recharge during a session, extending the completion time even further.
Also, as part of any navigation system, you’ll want to be able to block the vacuum from going to certain places like, say, your kids playroom or keeping the vacuum from falling down stairs. Inexpensive vacuums can do this but they usually require the placement of some sort of signalling tape that you place around your home. It’s not the most attractive option.
If you want to clean larger spaces more quickly, you need more advanced navigation. That’s where the S-patterned approach comes in.
The first time this type of vacuum goes about its business, it will behave more-or-less like the navigation described above. After that, it has captured a map of your home in its onboard software and that’s where things get interesting – and faster.
Once the robot knows the basic layout of your home, it will begin to vacuum floors in a regular back-and-forth motion until it has reached the end of the room, then it will switch to another room and repeat the process until all of your designated floors are clean.
After researching robot vacuums (and watching way too many Vacuum Wars videos) I decided that this type of navigation was the best option for us.
When the Roborock S5 went on sale (and I had a bunch of Amazon affiliate earnings banked) I made the purchase.
Setting up the Roborock S5 was easy as pie. I unboxed it, plugged in the charger and placed it in its new home. While it was charging, I set up the mobile app (Mi Home) on my iPhone and connected the robot to my Wi-Fi.
As part of the process, I had the option to name it.
I named it Rosie.
For those of my generation, you’ll remember Rosie, the robot house keeper from The Jetsons. It’s a perfect, geeky, nostalgic name choice.
When it was fully charged, I gave it a go.
During its first run, it had a difficult time getting itself up onto the high-pile area rug in the living room and a few times, I realized that I forgot to put away the dog toys or slippers, so I had to run around the house to pick those up. Other than that, it did a nice job of cleaning the floors.
The second time I ran it, I got the following results.
The yellow dot is Rosie’s home, in the dining room, next to the sideboard.
Notice the S-pattern throughout the house in almost every room. But here’s what becomes more interesting: if you know the layout of the house, you know exactly why the map looks like it does.
With that discovery, I have to say that I had a minor freakout.
What does Xiaomi (the manufacturer) do with this data? Is it shared with anyone? Do employees have access to it? Does it know my location?
I decided to find out.
The Terms of Service are pretty much what you’d expect, except for a few concerning items.
5.5. Xiaomi specifically brings to the User's attention that, in order to protect the company's business development and right to make adjustments, Xiaomi has the right to modify or suspend the services at any time without notice to the User and without any liability to the User or any third party.
This means that if Xiaomi ever decides to end the service, I’m SOL. Rosie becomes a door stop.
7.1. Xiaomi has the right to amend the terms of this Agreement when necessary, and any such amended terms will be published on relevant web pages. If the User does not agree with the amended terms, the User shall cancel the service. The User's continuing to use the service constitutes acceptance of the amended terms of the Agreement.
Xiaomi reserves the right to amend the user agreement at any time. It’s up to me to monitor this agreement for amendments.
7.2. Xiaomi and the Partner have the right to modify or change the paid services provided, the charging criteria, charging method, service charges and service terms according to their needs. When providing services, Xiaomi may start to charge some users certain fees either now or in the future. If the User refuses to pay such fees, the User will be unable to continue using relevant services after the new charge begins. Xiaomi and its Partner will do their utmost to notify the User of any amendments or changes by email or other means.
Things that were once free may become premium (paid) services. If I prefer not to pay these fees, Rosie becomes a door stop.
VIII. Applicable Law and Dispute Resolution
8.1. The validity and interpretation of this Agreement shall be governed by the laws of the Mainland of the People's Republic of China. In the absence of relevant legal provisions, international business practices and/or business practices may be used as references.
Do I feel like Xiaomi has breached this agreement or is at fault for something? I’ll have to visit Mainland China and file suit in their court system.
What information is collected, and how we use it
Types of information collected
Information related to the handheld device terminal or your SIM card: we may collect information related to the operation of the Mi Home handheld device terminal. For example, IMEI number, IMSI number, the version of your operating system, manufacturing information about your device, model name, and network operator. We may also collect information about the device associated with your account. For example, MAC address, DID, network status of the device (IP/network signal), and the version of your firmware.
Xiaomi collects just about everything that it can about my smartphone or tablet.
Information we designate that is about you: We may collect and use content such as information related to your Xiaomi account.
Location information (only for specific services/ functionalities): various types of information on your location. For example, region, country code, city code, mobile network code, mobile country code, cell identity, district name, longitude and latitude information, time zone settings, language settings.
…and collects just about everything related to my location.
Other information: environmental characteristics value (ECV) (i.e. value generated from Xiaomi Account ID, phone device ID, connected Wi-Fi ID and location value).
And creates some sort of algorithmic identifier based on all of the above.
How this personal information can be used
We may use your name, phone number, email address, Xiaomi or Mi Home account number, or IMEI number to provide you relating to goods and services of Xiaomi companies and our business partners which offer network, mobile applications and cloud products and services. We will only so use your personal data after we obtain your prior explicit consent and involve a clear affirmative action we have obtained your consent or indication of no objection in accordance with local data protection laws, which may require separate explicit consent. You have the right to opt out of our proposed use of your personal data for direct marketing. If you no longer wish to receive certain types of email communications you may opt-out by following the unsubscribe link located at the bottom of each communication. We will not transfer your personal data to our business partners for use by our business partners in direct marketing.
They may deliver marketing messages, either directly from Xiaomi or “Business Partners.” It’s not clear if they share personal information with these partners to deliver the message or if the messages are sent through Xiaomi’s services.
Here’s the important stuff.
With whom we share your information?
We do not sell any personal information to third parties.
So far, so good…
We may disclose your personal information to third parties (as defined below) in order to provide products or services that you have requested.
We may disclose information to the third-party service providers and affiliates listed at the end of the section. In any of the various situations described at the end of the section, you can rest assured that Xiaomi will only share the personal information in accordance with your consent. Your consent to Xiaomi will engage sub-processors for the processing of your personal information. Please understand that if, in any of the situations described below, Xiaomi shares your information with a third-party service provider, Xiaomi will contractually specify that the third party is subject to practices and obligations to comply with applicable local data protection laws. Xiaomi will contractually ensure compliance by any Third Party Service Providers with the privacy standards that apply to them in your home jurisdiction.
It looks like they won’t share personal information without explicit consent and will obligate compliance of any third-parties with whom they share the information.
Sharing with our group and third-party service provider
In order to operate successfully and provide you with the full functionality of our products and services, We may disclose your personal information to other Xiaomi affiliated companies (these may include communications, social media, technology, or cloud services) or our third-party service providers (our mailing centers, delivery services providers, telecommunications companies, data centers, data storage facilities, customer service providers, advertising and promotional service providers, and agents representing Xiaomi) [affiliated companies and/or other third parties] (collectively referred to as "third-party service providers"). Such third-party service providers may process your personal information on Xiaomi's behalf or for one or more of the purposes listed above. When using certain mobile applications on our devices, we may share your IP address with third parties in order to provide you with some of the services you requested. If you would no longer wish to allow us to share this information, please contact us by sending an email to email@example.com.
As per GDPR and CCPA requirements they call out the use of sub-processors.
Sharing information with our group's ecosystem companies
Xiaomi works with a group of very forward-thinking companies. Together, they form the Xiaomi Ecosystem. Xiaomi Ecosystem companies are independent entities, invested and incubated by Xiaomi, and they are experts in their fields. Xiaomi may disclose your personal information to Xiaomi Ecosystem companies in order to provide you with and make improvements to a range of exciting products and services (including software and hardware). Some of these products and services will be under the Xiaomi, Mi, Mi Home brand, while other products may use their own brand. Xiaomi Ecosystem companies may share data with Xiaomi related to Xiaomi, Mi, Mi Home brand products and services in order to provide software and hardware services, create better functionality, and provide a better user experience. Xiaomi will take appropriate organizational and technical measures to ensure the security of personal data during the process of sharing of information, including but not limited to encryption of your personal data. If Xiaomi is involved in the merger, acquisition, or sale of all or part of its assets, we will notify you of any change to the ownership of, use of, or any of the choices you have regarding your personal information by email and/or by posting a notice on our website.
…but they may share my personal information with “Xiaomi Ecosystem Companies.” Regardless of ownership structure, these are companies with whom I have not given explicit permission to receive and use my personal information.
Sharing of information with others
Xiaomi may disclose your personal information to others without further consent when required under applicable law.
Information not requiring consent
We may share anonymized information in aggregate form with third parties (such as advertisers on our website) for commercial purposes. We may share trends in common usage of our services, for example, the number of customers in a particular group who purchase certain products or engage in certain transactions.
For the avoidance of doubt, Xiaomi may collect, use, or disclose your personal information without your consent if it is and only to the extent it is allowed explicitly under local data protection laws (to, for example, comply with a subpoena). We may also disclose your information without your consent if we believe in good faith that it must be disclosed in order to protect our rights, your safety, or the safety of others; investigate fraud; or respond to government requests.
If law enforcement wants to know if my robot vacuum committed a crime, I’m fine with it.
We retain information we collect about you as long as it is still needed for the purposes we obtained it or as long as it is needed to comply with applicable legal requirements or permissions. We shall cease to retain personal information, or remove the means by which the personal information can be associated with particular individuals, as soon as it is reasonable to assume that the purpose for which that personal information was collected is no longer being served by retention of the personal information. If further processing is for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes according to the applicable laws, the data can be further retained by Xiaomi even if the further processing is incompatible with original purposes.
Basically, Xiaomi reserves the right to keep personal information on file in perpetuity.
In the final analysis, I’m happy with the Roborock S5 during the short time that I’ve owned it, but I’m not terribly excited by the ambiguity of the personal information protections.
A device of this type is wonderfully convenient, but it opens up a huge can of proverbial worms. We’re no longer just concerned about simple data like name, email address and telephone number – we’re now concerned with the entire layout of a home, its size and contents.
I’ll let you know if the cops show up at my door to question Rosie.