Earlier this year, there was a lawsuit filed against wearable sex toy WeVibe’s parent company Standard Innovations for accruing device usage information without consent from users. Unauthorized sex toy data collection — yikes.
The Internet of Dongs Initiative is a group of security researchers that believe “People should be able to enjoy their sex toys without worrying about security, privacy, or safety” and object to manufacturers adding internet connectivity “without understanding or considering the implications of doing so.” The IODI is currently in the development stage, but they plan to audit sex toys in order to secure best practice and manufacturers trust.
I answered a couple of questions interactive sex toy data collection for Wareable.com — read “A We-Vibe lawsuit is starting a conversation about sex toy data collection” in full here (December 22. 2016) and read my full correspondence below.
Wareable: To your knowledge, when it comes to sex wearables or insertibles, have privacy issues been a problem before?
DrCT: No problems with privacy issues with interactive toys of either type that I’m aware of – though honestly, emerging privacy issues don’t surprise me.
Developers and manufacturers of these sorts of products work to create as seamless an interactive experience as possible. Glitches and hitches during use are part of what takes people out of the experience, making them less inclined to enjoy the product. So, companies work to refine the experience – and one way by which this happens is gathering user data. This is not unusual at all, however sustained stigma about sex and sexualities – including who’s using sex toys and what kinds – makes this sort of data sensitive.
Wareable: Obviously the IODI want to make this problem public and secure privacy for sex toy users in the future but will there be problems making this a serious issue? There was a lot of outrage regarding the Ashley Madison hack but there was also a lot of ‘serves them right’ rhetoric. Will we see sex toy users shamed for demanding clearer privacy guidelines on toy packets and contracts?
DrCT: Well, the main difference between the “serves them right” rhetoric the plagued the AM hack and the fallout that may occur due to a sex toy hack is the intensity of the moralizing.
Regardless of who was using AM or why (and the diversity there was great), there’s a general, wider accepted narrative about “infidelity” – namely that it’s wrong. Though there is certainly a lot sexual shaming that occurs with sex toy use, the intensity and the consistency of the narrative is not as vicious as that that’s associated with infidelity. Certainly, there is room for sex-negative pundits to be taken down a notch if it’s ever revealed that they – gasp! – use a sex toy, but I don’t think the public reaction will be the same as it was re AM. This is not to suggest that personal data of any nature should not be protected in all instances, it’s just that the fallout related to social constructions regarding each issue are very different.
Wareable: Could companies storing info on users sexual preferences actually be a good thing?
DrCT: Absolutely data of this nature could be very useful and beneficial. From refining interactivity and meeting consumer needs to dispelling myths and learning more about human sexual experiences, there are endless lings that could be learned from this sort of data. But like any other data gathering endeavor, people need to be informed about what’s being gathered and when and reasonable steps always must be taken towards protecting privacy.
(pictured: sex toy data collection!)
* * *
Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.
Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com.