Are Your Headphones Spying on You?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 26, 2017

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A class action complaint, filed in federal court in Illinois, charges that Bose secretly collected, transmitted, and disclosed its customers’ private music and audio selections to third parties, including a data mining company.

According to the complaint,

Bose manufactures and sells high-end wireless headphones and speakers. To fully operate its wireless products, customers must download Defendant’s “Bose Connect” mobile application from the Apple App or Google Play stores and install it on their smartphones. With Bose Connect, customers can “pair” their smartphones with their Bose wireless products, which allows them to access and control their settings and features.

Unbeknownst to its customers, however, Defendant designed Bose Connect to (i) collect and record the titles of the music and audio files its customers choose to play through their Bose wireless products and (ii) transmit such data along with other personal identifiers to third-parties—including a data miner—without its customers’ knowledge or consent.

Do Your Headphones Know You Are Autistic?

The complaint suggests that personal audio selections

provide an incredible amount of insight into [the listener’s] personality, behavior, political views, and personal identity. In fact, numerous scientific studies show that musical preferences reflect explicit characteristics such as age, personality, and values, and can likely even be used to identify people with autism spectrum conditions.

Additionally, says the complaint, 

a person that listens to Muslim prayer services through his headphones or speakers is very likely a Muslim, a person that listens to the Ashamed, Confused, And In the Closet Podcast is very likely a homosexual in need of a support system, and a person that listens to The Body’s HIV/AIDS Podcast is very likely an individual that has been diagnosed and is living with HIV or AIDS.

Privacy Policy

The complaint charges that:

Bose solicits registration information (name and email address) and collects that information with the product’s serial number. And by collecting the Bose Wireless Products’ serial numbers along with Media Information, Bose is able to link the Media Information to any individual that has registered or will register their products, thus enabling Bose to create detailed profiles about its users and their music listening histories and habits.

The plaintiff, Kyle Zak, who paid $350 for his Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling headphones,  says that the company’s privacy policy didn’t properly disclose what personal information was being collected by the app.

According to Business Insider,

The Connect app’s latest license agreement does say it “may collect, transmit, and store” various pieces of customer data on “servers operated by third parties on behalf of Bose,” but it does not specifically mention the collection of audio file data.

The app’s privacy policy gets a little more specific, saying:

“Bose may partner with certain third parties” to collect “non-personal information” and “to engage in analysis, auditing, research, and reporting.”

Zak is seeking an injunction prohibiting the collection and use of this info, as well as damages for invasion of privacy and violation of the Federal Wiretap Act and Illinois state laws.

Bose’s Denial

According to Fortune, a Bose spokesman responded to the lawsuit saying, “[W]e’ll fight the inflammatory, misleading allegations made against us through the legal system.”

As reported by the Washington Post, Bose said,

In the Bose Connect App, we don’t wiretap your communications, we don’t sell your information, and we don’t use anything we collect to identify you — or anyone else — by name

How Smart Are Your Sex Toys?

As Fortune notes, the case is one of many involving privacy issues relating to the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

For example, a “smart sex toy” company called We-Vibe agreed to pay around $3.75 million to settle claims its app had illegally collected information about the use of its product.

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