Bose Accused of Spying on Listening Habits

John Lister's picture

A proposed class action lawsuit accuses Bose of selling personal data about customers who use its wireless headphones. But the claims are unconfirmed and the argument may be somewhat overstated.

Customer Kyle Zak made the complaint about Bose Connect, an app for iPhones and Android devices. The app isn't mandatory to use, but is designed to make it easier to switch between different headsets and speakers on a Bluetooth connection without needing to repeatedly pair and unpair the devices.

Podcast Choices Could Be Revealing

According to the lawsuit, Bose uses the app to collect details of all the songs and podcasts that the user listens to, then passes it on to marketing companies - along with the name and email address the user provided when the product was registered. The lawsuit argues that the list of podcasts could reveal information that might be very personal, and that listeners might not want advertisers to know.

It says: "... for example, 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."

The lawsuit even cites a study claiming that the music that somebody listens to can reveal or indicate "explicit characteristics such as age, personality, and values, and can likely even be used to identify people with autism spectrum conditions." (Source: scribd.com)

Customers Allegedly Kept in Dark

Whether that's really the case isn't the key legal point at stake here. What really matters is whether or not customers gave informed consent to their information being shared in this way.

The lawsuit argues that both the collection and sharing of the data is done without the customer's knowledge. Zak's lawyer says there's no mention of it in any of the relevant privacy or service agreements. The lawsuit says Bose therefore violated federal wiretap, state eavesdropping and fraud laws.

There's no actual evidence provided in the lawsuit to prove that Bose is indeed collecting the data; instead it's simply stated as fact.

Bose has yet to make any public response at the time of writing. (Source: fortune.com)

What's Your Opinion?

If the claims are true, should Bose be legally required to get permission before collecting and sharing such data? Do you buy the argument that listening habits could be useful tools for advertisers in a way that customers wouldn't want? Do you ever read privacy or service agreements before using a tech product?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (4 votes)

Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

Last week I researched prices on Amazon for Windows 10 and 7 (full retail vs the "system builder" versions) for an article. Yesterday I started seeing banner ads for Windows 10 and 7 on websites. This isn't the first time it's happened. I've gone to Newegg.com to research hardware products for my customers, only to see the very same hardware being advertised in banner ads a few hours later.

The point is, almost everything you do online is being watched in some way or another for the purpose of "remarketing" that information. Does that make Bose immune from being charged in a class action lawsuit? Absolutely not, especially if it's not written in some sort of end user license agreement (EULA).

In my case, I do not remember whether or not I explicitly agreed to have my information shared on Amazon or Newegg with third parties - but most likely that EULA is buried somewhere in their "privacy" page which more or less says that if you use their website, you agree to have your information shared.

ecash's picture

I dont think THEY share it...
I think its a file on your system..and read by SITES, that use Google advertising..
They changed its name, and I cant remember it anymore.

SITES require you to use certain Bots, scripts, ... JUST to see or use their sites.
It really sucks, but to get AROUND safety and security, they let YOU distribute the data.

rcprimak's picture

Apps store and transmit data differently form sites or PC filesystems. The App Permissions govern what is allowed to be shared, and users seldom go through the Permissions when installing and using Apps. That's where the power lies (if you have any).

clay_3833's picture

Yes, there is very little internet privacy left and the current administration is repealing what few protections there are as quickly as it can.

ecash's picture

They always SAY..
They will not share..
But, they GROUP the data and share numbers of who did what..
Its 1 step to get to EVERY NAME that looked at a product.

There is a Problem with all this adverts..
I search for 1 product and BUY what I need...And every advert after is FOR THAT PRODUCT..They dont know what Im looking for until I Look..

REALLY want some fun...Sign up for Coupon sites..
Search their site for Coupons you CAN/WILL use..I cant find any.
THEn the adverts start up..

rcprimak's picture

In light of the fact that the person suing has not done his own research, there is a complete lack of datasets showing actual transmission of any data to or from the device or the headphones while they were in use. This complete lack of evidence will doom any lawsuit to failure. But Bose may volunteer to provide information as to specifics of what data the App collects and how the data are used. This will be the only reliable guide as to whether or not, and to what extent, personally identifiable data or datasets are being collected, stored, and used.

Chances are, this is no more personal than Microsoft Windows telemetry data. Those data are aggregated and do not reveal personal information individually.

But if the data are being used for Suggestions or Targeted Ads (like Microsoft's Cortana and Bing data) then the consumer needs to be informed in advance, and there needs to be a clear opt-out available for such data sharing.

With luck, this lawsuit will get just far enough to set a precedent for informed consent and opt-out options. Let's hope Microsoft is watching!