Smart devices listening to conversations, Facebook spying on what we say via out webcams and now sex toys spying on what you do in the bedroom?
The latest accusations aimed at a Canadian sex toy manufacturer alleges just this but is it possible that devices used for pleasure in the bedroom could also be collecting data on your preferences?
The Canadian case
Standard Innovation is an Ottawa based company who have agreed to pay out a total of £2.4 million to US users or their sex toys after they were accused of tracking the intimate habits of thousands of customers. The root of the problem in the case wasn’t the device itself but the app that it is connected to.
The We-Connect app connected with the We-Vibe vibrator and sent back a range of information on the user including temperature, usage and settings. This led to a class-action lawsuit filed in September 2016 by customers who were angry that this information collection violated their privacy rights.
By March 2017, the company had agreed to pay out people who bought the product in the US before 26th September 2016 with each person involved in the case receiving up to $10,000 (Canadian dollars). Customers who bought the toy before that date but didn’t activate the accompanying app will also receive a small payout of $199 each.
The payout was limited to the US and the company said it has since enhanced both its privacy notice and app security.
The sex toy industry is becoming increasingly high tech and adult toy sellers are finding that customers want the latest technology. Companies who have produced toys since the 1970s have seen the progression from battery powered to USB charged and now apps, with virtual reality just around the corner.
The idea of the app for the We-Connect system was that it allowed users to control device intensity from the mobile phone and also for another user to activate the product via Bluetooth technology. Standard Innovation said the information gathered was for market research purposes, but users said they felt violated by the personal nature of the information.
The lawsuit raised the prospect of people being connected via an email address provided to the company, although Standard Innovation was adamant that there had been no breach of customer personal information or data.
Companies offering this kind of product were quick to admit that lessons need to be learned from the case. The safety of user’s data should be at the top of everything that they do, and security is something that people are very conscious of, especially around intimate information.
Two users at the Def Con hacking convention in the US gave a talk in August 2016 about how personal data can be extracted from apps connected to devices and specifically used the We-Vibe device as an example. In their talk, they showed how third parties could intercept the data and make use of it.
And as the sex toy industry joins the ‘Internet of Things’ with interconnected, smart devices, then people need to be more aware of what they are signing up for and how the details they give can be used. New EU data protection laws come into force in May this year and companies could then face huge fines if they misuse personal data or fail to be transparent about its usage.
So, while your sex toys might not be spying on you, there is the risk that information could be stolen from connected devices if you don’t use good security measures. In fact, there are real-world examples, although cases where the CIA in the US has allegedly been spying on people’s sex lives seem more fiction than fact.
Covering your webcam on your computer or laptop is one example of a recommended measure – Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is one famous person to employ this measure. Hacking of a camera on a device such as a smartphone can also reveal what it sees as well as personal data on the device.