Robots in the Home: What Will We Have Agreed To?

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Margot Kaminski


Idaho Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 661-677, 2015


Robots in the home will challenge United States privacy law. Robots make recordings and communicate with third parties. Whether and when the law will keep these records private from police or private-sector actors depends on the details of the law regarding trespass, consent, and privacy.

Policy Relevance

Privacy law must adapt to protect privacy in the age of robotics. Companies that make robots should design privacy policies to protect user’s privacy.

Main Points

  • Robots often record information, store data in the cloud, or send it to third parties.
  • Household robots raise two privacy concerns:
    • Concerns about the initial recording of information, especially when robots open doors and enter rooms without permission.
    • Concerns about excessive sharing or processing of information.
  • The Fourth Amendment limits government intrusions into the privacy of one’s home, but not when one has agreed to let a third party access the information; some Supreme Court Justices might be willing to reconsider this third-party rule, because it erodes privacy.
  • The Supreme Court usually looks to our expectations of privacy to decide how much protection to give information under the Fourth Amendment.
    • Information collected by low-flying helicopters or planes is not private, because the technology is generally in use.
    • The police may not bring a drug-sniffing dog onto one’s porch without a warrant, as most people would not expect this.
    • Some cases suggest the Fourth Amendment should preserve private spaces from technological change, despite our expectations.
  • If courts decide that robots are like informants, the policy will not need a warrant to access the robot’s recordings, but if the courts find that robots are like a diary, police will need a warrant.
  • Private actors might also violate privacy law by misusing robots’ recordings; even if the robot’s user technically agrees to recording described in a robot’s privacy policy, the FTC might penalize such recording if it is deceptive, or violates privacy norms.
  • The government can often use lies to obtain information without violating the Constitution, but the FTC and other laws restrict private actors from deceiving consumers.


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