The Internet of Things (or “IoT”) is a hot topic in privacy circles, given its rapid expansion among everyday consumer products. Broadly referring to Internet-connected-devices, the IoT encompasses a variety of consumer goods, such as kitchen appliances (smart ovens and refrigerators), home security, window blinds, light bulbs, and lawn care equipment. Many personal devices are now connected as well, including toothbrushes, a smart hairbrush that measures hair density and brushing habits, a pillow that monitors snoring and analyzes sleeping habits, and even sexual devices — which brings us to the present story.
The company Standard Innovation Corp. sells a personal vibrator product called the We-Vibe. According to the class complaint: “To fully operate the We-Vibe, users download Defendant’s ‘We-Connect’ application from the Apple App Store or the Google Play store and install it on their smartphones. With We-Connect, users can ‘pair’ their smartphone to the We-Vibe, allowing them—and their partners—remote control over the vibrator’s customizable settings and features.” However, “[u]nbeknownst to its customers . . . Defendant designed We-Connect to (i) collect and record highly intimate and sensitive data regarding consumers’ personal We-Vibe use, including the date and time of each use and the selected vibration settings, and (ii) transmit such usage data—along with the user’s personal email address—to its servers in Canada.” The plaintiffs also allege that the company misrepresented the security of the app, as evidenced by two hackers at the 2016 Def Con conference being able to hack into and control someone else’s device. The proliferation of IoT hacking has led some to suggest that a better name might be IoTTCBH, or Internet of Things That Can Be Hacked.
As part of the settlement, in addition to monetary compensation for the class, the company agreed to implement or change many of its privacy practices. Specifically, the company agreed to (1) not collect email addresses through its We-Connect app, (2) update its privacy notice to specifically disclose its data collection and use practices, (3) provide users with a method to opt out of their data being provided to third parties, (4) take various steps to ensure that all users with the We-Connect app receive notice of the company’s privacy policies, and (5) purge certain consumer privacy information already collected.
As more devices are interconnected, concerns over the security of those devices and the data collection/use practices of IoT device makers are growing. The We-Vibe class action highlights the importance of appropriate privacy policies and practices, as well as technical device security.