Robots and Privacy

Privacy and Security and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


M. Ryan Calo


in Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics, Patrick Lin, George Bekey, and Keith Abney, eds., Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012 (forthcoming)


As robots become more mainstream, the technology can implicate privacy in obvious and surprising ways.

Policy Relevance

The Federal Trade Commission could require or incentivize adequate security for robots, and could regulate what information robots collect from consumers. Congress could amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to clarify that a warrant is required for video or audio footage that a robot may relay from the interior of a home. Courts could hold indiscriminate robotic patrols or indiscriminate surveillance as unreasonable, and could uncouple Fourth Amendment protections from the prevalence of technology in society.

Main Points

  • Robots give individuals, corporations, military and law enforcement new powers to gather information about people, for security, voyeurism, and marketing.

  • As robots enter into historically protected places like the home, they potentially give the government, private litigants and hackers greater access to private places.

  • As robots become more human-like and socially interactive, they can reduce people’s solitude, extract greater information, and gather more sensitive, private information from people.

  • Robots may be used like drug-sniffing dogs, to search for illegal activities and alerting law enforcement if it detects them, without necessarily implicating citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

  • Opportunities for privacy, in which people can be alone, enjoy solitude, and find respite from public spaces, will decrease the more that social technology spreads.

  • Increasing robotic presence may cause subtle privacy harms, including psychological damage and commercial deception, which are difficult to identify, measure, and resist.

  • As people interact with programmable social robots, they may reveal highly sensitive information about themselves, including intimate psychological attributes.

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