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Thursday, May 26, 2022

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Can Sex Toys be hacked into?

One of the biggest developments in the sex toy industry is the use of apps to control a product either from a distance or close up just for ease. Now a sex toy manufacturer in Canada has been accused of tracking data on literally thousands of its customers.

Standard Innovation has been rumbled and taken to Court and is staring down the barrel of a collective lawsuit and a payout in excess of £2.4 million. Has this set a precedent? Should other sex toy users who enjoy their pleasure with the assistance of an app be worried?

It seems from the details of this particular case that the app, We-Connect, which was used alongside the We-Vibe vibrator collected data which was automatically returned to the company. The data included information on temperature, rhythmic settings and other elements of the product’s usage. The app also had inbuilt features which included private text messaging between the users and video calls and was marketed towards couples who were spending time apart. The lawsuit was filed on the basis of breach of privacy, it is unclear whether the company intended to do anything with this information or even whether they could identify individual users from the app.

Tech has come to sex toys just like it has arrived in every other area of our lives.

We know about viruses hacking into our computers and tablets but when we think about the concept of a virus in the bedroom, it is usually something unsavoury in the STD department! Sex toys have gone from static to battery-powered to app-driven, what next?

Sex toys that are controlled by app and have Bluetooth connectivity are the way forward and we should be as concerned about our personal privacy and data security in the bedroom as we are in any other area of our life.

However, it’s not usually the first thing on people’s minds in the heat of the moment.

The party line from Standard Innovation was that they collected data for market research and that would make sense.

If there was a setting on the vibrator that no-one ever used or there were functionality problems with the app then it is quite logical that a manufacturer would want to know this. But controlling and accessing private data is subject to legislation and security and manufacturers have a responsibility at law to their users. In Europe and the UK, this is governed by the Data Protection Act and GDPR still relevant even after Brexit. Companies outside the EU and the UK still have to comply with GDPR if they are serving UK or European customers and keep their data safe.

The concern for most users in the States was that the data could be linked to their email address and thus form a chain from which they could be identified. This, of course, was strenuously denied by Standard Innovation but it sets a marker down for other manufacturers of digital sex toys that personal data must be cared for properly and that the software must be proofed against hackers.

This particular product was the subject of a presentation at a hacking convention in 2016, the talk was called, ‘The Internet of Vibrating Things’. Two hackers called Goldfisk and Follower demonstrated how a third party could successfully intercept the data and take remote control of the vibrator to possibly even commit a sexual assault. This particular stunt has already been pulled by hackers who took control of a driverless car and demonstrated that they were successfully able to infiltrate the software and start to change what the car did whilst it was in autonomous mode with a live driver. It does all sound a bit James Bond but the theory is sound and the potential is there.

It is now official that the CIA can listen in to Smartphones and Smart TV microphones.

Official intelligence agencies are unlikely to have the time or the inclination to snoop on people’s bedroom antics but for the savvy hacker looking to make a fast buck, the potential is there for a huge amount of mischief-making. Industry experts think this is less likely than downloading footage from products which can actually record film – Sextortion is big business. It’s quite simple. Malware can infect a digital device and then monitor the integral camera for any sexual film content which could be used later on to blackmail those who appear in it. If you are streaming content which you wouldn’t want to share with anyone else, then cover the camera lens with a piece of tape or a special little widget sold specifically for this purpose.

So far, the concept of interfering with a sex toy remotely to constitute sexual assault or harvesting data from an app which is controlling one does seem a little far fetched and the stuff of fantasy. But wherever there is electronic software, there is the potential for exploitation and misuse. The fact is hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean to say that it can’t or it won’t. As far as Standard Innovation are concerned, they have updated the We-Connect app and the accompanying privacy notice. Customers can now opt-out of data collection techniques.

So virus protection in the bedroom consists not just of careful condom usage but perhaps a bit of a long look at the safety and security of your sex toys and the apps on your phone.

It is unlikely that a random third party is going to get much mileage from data on an app about how you use your vibrator usage but you could be vulnerable to someone closer who is a trickster or as part of revenge tactics after the end of a relationship. Always make sure that all your devices are well-protected as well as your sexual health.

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