It’s all over the news right now that We-Vibe is settling a lawsuit over their app-enabled vibrators, and naturally, everyone wants to know my opinion. (Thank you, by the way, for thinking of me whenever sex toys are in the news.) According to the plaintiffs, We-Vibe was collecting app usage data without their knowledge. One headline reads, alarmingly, We-Vibe vibrator creator to pay damages after spying on user sex lives.
Obviously, privacy and consent are important, but so is context. So, what kind of data was collected and how was it used? When the issue was brought to We-Vibe’s attention in September, they explained:
We do collect certain limited data to help us improve our products and for diagnostic purposes. As a matter of practice, we use this data in an aggregate, non-identifiable form. Processor chip temperature is used to help us determine whether device processors are operating correctly. And vibration intensity data is used for the purposes of helping us better understand how — in the aggregate — our product features are utilized.
They failed to disclose this to users. That’s it. This isn’t some nefarious scheme. Nobody’s email addresses or passwords were leaked. No bank accounts were hacked. No sensitive information was made public. Only We-Vibe had access to the data, and they then used it to… improve their products. I’m not saying it was okay for them to do this without telling us, or that consumers don’t have a right to be pissed. But is this worth boycotting an otherwise reputable company over? In my opinion, no.
We-Vibe has always been a stand-up company to me, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that I would not give to other companies. They updated the app immediately when the issue was brought to their attention. There is now no registration or account creation and an option for customers to opt out of sharing anonymous usage data. We-Vibe destroyed all the data previously collected, and they’re offering to pay consumers who were affected. They responded appropriately and learned their lesson.
I can’t help but feel like sex negativity had a role in this, though. When the initial news came out it was constantly presented in an inflammatory way by the media, as if sexual data is somehow more egregious to collect than ALL the other data ALL other apps collect. We opt in to (or don’t opt out of) so much shit on our phones, we give up our privacy all the time, but OH GOD! The privacy of THE BEDROOM!
I know, sex is a bristly subject for people. It’s sensitive and loaded, and should be handled as such. I sometimes forget that, living in a self-created sex-positive utopia where relaying all the juicy details of my masturbatory life to the internet is the norm. I forget that for some people, sex is so taboo that to have any information about their sex lives divulged — no matter the manner, amount, or recipient — is a violation. I think, perhaps, We-Vibe momentarily forgot that too. I can forgive them for that.