AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

High-tech sex toys record users' erotic habits, Georgia woman claims


A Georgia woman trying to spice things up in the bedroom claims she's instead found herself in a sexual-techno nightmare, all because she bought a sex toy called Lush that secretly records intimate details about users' tastes and desires.

Her lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Francisco reads like the plot of a "Black Mirror" episode. Lush is a high-tech vibrator, sold out of California, that users can pair with their smartphones through an app called Body Chat. Through a Bluetooth or internet connection, the user or a partner can control the vibrator, increasing or decreasing the vibration intensity. As the product website points out, that can be done from inside the bedroom, across the table at a restaurant, or halfway around the world.

But someone is watching, the Georgia woman claims. And recording.

The company behind this "teledildonics" technology, Lovense, is owned by a Chinese company, Hytto Ltd. Unbeknownst to the Georgia woman and every other adventurous Lush buyer, Hytto has been secretly harvesting its customers' erotic proclivities: when they want it, how long they want it, and how intensely they want it, the lawsuit alleges.

"Defendant programmed the Body Chat App to secretly collect intimate details about its customers' use of the Lovense devices," the suit says, "including the date and time of each use, the vibration intensity level selected by the user, and incredibly, the email address of Lovense customers who had registered the App, allowing Defendant to link the usage information to specific customer accounts."

The plaintiff, identified only as "S.D." in the lawsuit, says she bought her Lush in late 2016 for $114, including shipping. She's used it "on several occasions," but never would have done so had she known what Hytto was up to, her suit says. What's more, Lovense's marketing materials promise discretion, assuring that "absolutely no sensitive data (pictures, video, chat logs) pass through (or are held) on our servers." If customers wanted a high-tech vibrator without such privacy assurances, they could have gone with cheaper options, the complaint says.

The court document does not say how the defendant or her attorney, Rafey Balabanian out of San Francisco, know that the company is tracking and transmitting the usage data, or what the company might be doing with the data.

A spokesperson for the company told Courthouse News Service this week that Lush users consented to the collection when they clicked that they agreed to the privacy policy. “Users of our software and applications must agree to our privacy policy before using our services,” the company rep said. “It clearly mentions the kind of data transiting through our servers.”

An NBC News story offered more context:

In November, the company acknowledged that users had discovered that a small audio file called "tempSoundPlay" was left on Android devices whenever they used the app's Sound Control feature. It said iPhones weren't affected by the "bug."

The company said the file was stored in devices' temporary caches and was intended to erase itself but that a "minor bug" meant it wasn't deleted as designed. Lovense said it quickly corrected the "bug."

"Your concern is completely understandable," it said in a statement at the time. "But rest assured, no information or data is sent to our servers."

The lawsuit against Hytto seeks class action status on behalf of everyone in the U.S. who bought a Lovense product and everyone who downloaded the Body Chat app and used it. The foreign company may have violated the federal Wiretap Act, the complaint says, and it invaded its customers' sexual privacy causing "mental anguish and suffering in the form of embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety and concern regarding the safety of their usage information."

While Hytto is based in Hong Kong, the lawsuit has been filed in Northern California federal court because it distributes its products to brick-and-mortar stores there, it once used a crowd-funding platform operated by a San Francisco company, and it has accounts and contracts with such California-based giants as Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Apple and Google.

The Georgia woman is seeking an injunction forcing Hytto to stop intercepting and transmitting information about its customers' sex habits and to destroy any data it has collected. The suit also seeks punitive damages and full refunds for everyone who bought the products, which would exceed $5 million.

Notably, the maker of another remote-controlled vibrator, Standard Innovation, settled a similar class-action lawsuit last year, agreeing to pay as much as $10,000 to anyone who used its app and as much as $199 to those who bought the technology but never set it up. 


Reader Comments ...


About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.