Mobile Apps

Internet-connected vibrator connects with privacy lawsuit

Customer claims the We-Vibe collects and transmits "highly intimate and sensitive" information back to the manufacturer's servers.

Stephen Shankland

An internet-connected vibrator is rubbing at least one consumer the wrong way.

A lawsuit, filed earlier this month in a Chicago federal court, alleges Standard Innovation's We-Vibe secretly collects "highly intimate and sensitive" data and transmits it back to the company's servers in real time. The lawsuit, filed by an Illinois woman identified only by the initials N.P., alleges the company collects users' data without their consent in violation of the federal Wiretap Act and the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute, as well as the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

The We-Vibe, when paired with a smartphone and the We-Connect companion app, allows users to exchange text messages and engage in video chats. It also allows a partner to control the device remotely.

The app transmits details such as date and time of each use, the intensity and mode chosen by the user, and the email address of registered users, according to the lawsuit.

"Though the data collected from its customers' smartphones is undoubtedly valuable to the company, defendant's conduct demonstrates a wholesale disregard for consumer privacy rights," according to the lawsuit (see below).

The lawsuit highlights the potential perils of connecting household devices -- especially extremely personal ones -- to smartphones and the Internet without thoroughly considering user privacy. The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, also seeks unspecified punitive damages and an injunction against the company prohibiting further data collection.

A representative for Standard Innovation said Tuesday the company hadn't been served with the lawsuit yet and couldn't comment on it. But the company issued a statement to address concerns about how it handles customer data.

"There's been no allegation that any of our customers' data has been compromised," the Canada-based company said. "However, given the intimate nature of our products, the privacy and security of our customers' data is of utmost importance to our company. Accordingly, we take concerns about customer privacy and our data practices seriously."

The company said it has taken steps in recent weeks to reinforce its product's privacy and security measures, including hiring external experts to review the company's data practices. An update to the We-Connect app later this month will include information about its privacy and data practices and a new feature that will allow users to control how their data is used.

Potential issues with the product came to light last month at the annual Defcon hacking convention when two researchers demonstrated how flaws in the software could let a hacker take over the vibrator while it's in use. They also learned what kinds of data are being sent back to the company by taking the vibrator apart and studying the information it sends and receives.

N.P. v. Standard Innovation by CNET News on Scribd