Earlier this month a woman took her ‘smart’ vibrator to federal court, filing a class action lawsuit against Premium Sensual Lifestyle Products manufacturer Standard Innovations. The woman accused the company for collecting and transmitting her intimate data, including her email address and the vibration settings she used, without her consent.
In 2014, Standard Innovations enabled their “We-Vibe” vibrators to connect with smartphones by means of Bluetooth, “allowing couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart.” This simultaneously enabled sexual partners to handle one another’s product at a distance. However, at the 2016 DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, two researchers revealed flaws in the software that controls the device, making it possible to remotely seize control of the vibrator and activate it at will.
The researchers—known as followr and g0ldfisk—discovered besides the amount of data transmitted back to the manufacturer, the temperature of the device was monitored and broadcasted in real-time. In a statement, Standard Innovations said the collected data is solely being used for “diagnostic purposes”. Nevertheless, the streaming of this data presents a number of risks to users. According to followr, “A lot of people in the past have said it’s not really a serious issue, but if you come back to the fact that we’re talking about people, unwanted activation of a vibrator is potentially sexual assault.”
The Internet of Things (IoT) promised connectivity to a broad variety of objects, ranging from health innovations to consumer electronics including (sex) toys; basically any object, person or animal could be assigned an IP address and transfer data over a network. While companies’ ability to collect user information to store and sell is nothing new, the We-Vibe revelation demonstrates this could lead to forms of virtual rape.
As Neil Gross so perfectly envisioned the IoT in 1999, he stated, “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” His claim forecasted future technologies to ultimate precision, in which vibration modes like PULSE, WAVE and CHA CHA CHA are sensations you don’t necessarily share with a third party. Welcome to the Internet of Vibrating Things.