Bad Vibrations: Today's Racy Privacy Problems Surfing the Internet

You’d never guess that a Canadian company with the bland name of Standard Innovation makes high-tech sex toys. Their users certainly never guessed their sex habits would be broadcast to the Internet, but perhaps they should have.


The main purpose of the toys in question, tied to the “We-Vibe” brand and mobile apps, was to allow a man in one place to control a toy (complete with “Surf” mode) in use by a woman in another place, while one half of a couple was traveling for whatever reason. This meant the toy and its usage were connected to the Internet!

Unsurprisingly to me, but shocking to some of the customers, Standard Innovation was recording information tied to this use, data going through their servers on the Internet. Some of the users sued, and won a multi-million dollar settlement.

The odd thing here is that Standard Innovation’s practices were sadly standard on the industry. Whenever you get something ‘for free’ as a service, in this case the ongoing use of the We-Vibe servers and apps, the people supplying that service have to pay for it somehow. Usually, and especially the case with ‘free’ Google services, information about you is the commodity that is being gathered and sold.

People know about this. It’s a regular joke online to note what ads Gmail might show within a given email thread, because it it known and expected that Google’s advertising team has access to the contents of your personal emails for the purpose of targeting ads.


So to be honest I don’t get the outrage here. Are you going to tell me the content of your emails are somehow less sensitive than the occasional use of a toy at home? Come on. I suspect this is simply a case of some lawyers going after a weak target to extract some cash.

Since it can’t be the angle that “hackers can get it.” Google has many times over been documented as having vulnerabilities exploited by the US Government and others. The data’s out there. Google just has better lawyers.

And until we as a society decide that’s not good enough, nothing will change.


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