September 15, 2016 2:11 pm

We-Vibe lawsuit: Why would a sex toy company want to collect your data?

The We-Vibe 3 vibrator is shown in a handout photo. A U.S. woman has launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Canadian-owned maker of a smartphone-enabled vibrator, alleging the company sells products that secretly collect and transmit "highly sensitive" information. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO


A proposed class-action lawsuit against Canadian sex toy company Standard Innovation might come as a bit of a buzzkill for anyone who owns the We-Vibe smartphone connected vibrator.

The lawsuit, filed by a Chicago-area woman earlier this month, alleges that the Ottawa-based company’s sex toys secretly collect and transmit highly sensitive data – including the date and time of each use – without the user’s consent.

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We-Vibe is a smartphone-connected vibrator that requires users to download an app called We-Connect. The app allows users and their partners to control the Bluetooth-equipped vibrator’s settings remotely.

READ MORE: Internet of Things our ‘biggest threat to privacy,’ expert warns

The lawsuit alleges that Standard Innovation designed the We-Connect app to collect and record intimate and sensitive data on use of the vibrator, including the date and time of each use as well as vibration settings (like “pulse,” “peak” and — honest to God — “cha cha cha”).

It also alleges the usage data and the user’s personal email address were transmitted to the company’s servers here in Canada.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Standard Innovation said the company has not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on “rumour or speculation.”

“There’s been no allegation that any of our customers’ data has been compromised. However, given the intimate nature of our products, the privacy and security of our customers’ data is of utmost importance to our company,” the company said in a statement.

“We take concerns about customer privacy and our data practices seriously.”

But why would a sex toy company want to collect personal information – right down to the particular setting you used – in the first place?

According to a company spokesperson, it’s in order to improve their products.

“We use certain limited data in an aggregate, non-identifiable form to help us improve our products,” said Denny Alexander, marketing communications manager at Standard Innovation.

But product improvements are no excuse for poor privacy practices, said former Ontario information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

“This is a something you are inserting into very physical parts of your body. This is as sensitive as it gets,” Cavoukian told Global News.

“If you want to use the information to improve service, you must ask people – you must seek their consent.”

Cavoukian expressed “staggering concerns” over the fact that the company never asked for explicit consent from users to track any kind of data – noting that most consumers wouldn’t imagine that a sex toy would collect usage data.

“I think most people who buy something like this – their expectation is that it would be private. I don’t think there would be any assumption that their activities would be monitored and their usage would be collected,” she said.

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Global News asked Standard Innovation whether We-Vibe users were provided with information about the collection of sensitive information when they purchased the vibrator.

The company did not specifically address the question, but said, “We have made a commitment to our customers to improve transparency. We stand behind that commitment.”

The company said it has “engaged external security and privacy experts to conduct a thorough review of our data practices.”

The We-Connect app will also be updated later this month to include “in-app communication” regarding privacy and data practices.

However, Cavoukian suggested the company should include the ability to opt in or out of data collection.

“Privacy is about personal control,” she said.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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