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Too sensitive? Sex toy maker sued over collection of intimate data

Ottawa-based 'We-Vibe' maker subject of U.S. class-action lawsuit

Vibrator

The We-Vibe 3 vibrator is shown in a handout photo. The We-Vibe maker is the target of a proposed class-action lawsuit claiming the company's app-enabled device violates privacy laws. (The Canadian Press)

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An American 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 Chicago-area woman, identified in a statement of claim only as N.P., has made her complaints against Standard Innovation (US) Corp., which is owned by the Ottawa-based Standard Innovation Corp, over a "high-end" vibrator called the We-Vibe.

The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in an Illinois court, explains that to fully operate the device, users download the We-Connect app on a smartphone, allowing them and their partners remote control over the Bluetooth-equipped vibrator's settings.

"It's come to our attention that the company is actually recording specific information about her and other individuals' usage of the device and that would include when it's on, how long it's being used for, what settings it's on, the temperature of the device," Eve-Lynn Rapp, the San Franciso-based attorney handling the suit, told CBC's As it Happens.

"So when that came to light, she understandably was pretty upset."

In particular, the app's "connect lover" feature — which promises a secure connection — allows partners to exchange text messages, conduct video chats and control a paired We-Vibe device, the woman's statement of claim said.

Lawsuit alleges disregard for privacy 

The woman at the centre of the suit bought her vibrator in May for $130 US, downloaded the app that connects to it and used it on several occasions.

"(N.P.) would never have purchased a We-Vibe had she known that in order to use its full functionality, [Standard Innovation] would monitor, collect and transmit her usage information through We-Connect," the statement of claim said.

The suit alleges that unbeknownst to its customers, 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.

It also alleges the usage data and the user's personal email address was transmitted to the company's servers in Canada.

"From what I'm seeing in news reports, they're [collecting data] for diagnostic purposes," Rapp told As it Happens. "No matter what they're doing with it... it doesn't matter. If you're not telling people you're collecting this type of information, that's a problem."

The statement of claim alleges the company's conduct demonstrates "a wholesale disregard" for consumer privacy rights and violated a number of state and federal laws.

Company says it takes privacy seriously

Standard Innovation said Wednesday that it had not been served the suit yet and could not 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."

The company noted, however, that it had taken steps to "further enhance" its data security and privacy measures in the last few weeks.

"As part of this effort, we have engaged external security and privacy experts to conduct a thorough review of our data practices with a view to further strengthening data protection and privacy for our customers," it said. "We are also committed to better communicating our data practices."

Ottawa sex toy company sued for 'secretly collecting' its customers' intimate habits 6:17

The We-Connect app is being updated later this month and will include in-app communication about the company's privacy and data practices, as well as a new feature for customers to control how their data may be used, the company said.

The lawsuit filed against Standard Innovation asks the court for an injunction prohibiting the company from monitoring, collecting and transmitting consumer usage information, damages arising from the invasion of personal privacy, and damages arising from the purchase of the We-Vibe.

It also seeks certification as a class-action lawsuit and estimates tens of thousands of individuals could be part of the legal action.

"This is the type of situation where any kind of disclosure must be really specific ... so there is no doubt and people fully understand what they're agreeing to, and the company is not doing that," said Rapp.

"Usually the standard is informed consent, and I don't think that exists here."

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