Bose accused of tracking and sharing customer listening data: Report

Audio giant Bose has been accused of tracking and sharing the listening data of its customers without their explicit informed consent.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Bose for allegedly "secretly" tracking the listening habits of its customers through its headphone and speaker companion app Connect.

The lawsuit, first reported by Fortune, claims Bose not only collects its customers' private music and audio selections through its Android and iOS application Bose Connect, but also transmits and discloses them to third parties, including San Francisco-based data mining company Segment.

The complaint acknowledges that customer data can be valuable to Bose, but selling it to third parties represents a "wholesale disregard for consumer privacy rights" and violates several laws including the federal Wiretap Act and several Illinois state privacy laws.

"Indeed, one's personal audio selections -- including music, radio broadcast, podcast, and lecture choices -- provide an incredible amount of insight into his or her personality, behavior, political views and personal identity," the complaint states.

Bose's Connect app, which is marketed as an optional companion to some of Bose's wireless products including the QuietComfort 35 headphones, allows the user to set up and control certain aspects of their listening experience from their smartphone.

According to the complaint, filed by Illinois man Kyle Zak, the Connect app fails to notify or warn customers of its data collection and sharing practices during the download and installation process.

In addition, Zak alleged that the Connect app also "intercepted and collected all available Media Information" from his smartphone every time it was opened, after Zak paired the app with his QuietComfort 35 headphones.

Connect's licensing agreement on iTunes notes that use of the app also operates as the user's consent to "the collection, transmission, and storage of certain standard networking information, device usage data, and Bose product information via the internet to servers owned or controlled by Bose or operated by third parties on behalf of Bose".

It does not, however, specify the collection of audio data that Zak claims the company has been tracking such as title and general info for every song, podcast, or other audio file.

Bose's privacy policy, on the other hand, states that the company "may also share non-personal, de-identified, and aggregated information for research or promotional purposes."

But it does not disclose how Bose collects that data, nor whether a user's listening data counts as "non-personal" information.

The lawsuit filed against Bose claims that a user's listening data can reveal a lot about that user, enough to create a "detailed profile" that can be paired with information such as name and email address collected during the sign-up process, as well as a product's serial number.

"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 complaint states.

The complaint does not state how Zak found the Connect app to be collecting such data or provide any conclusive evidence indicating what kind of data or how much of it was shared with Segment.

The lawsuit is seeking an injunction to stop Bose from continuing to collect and share user data, as well as actual, statutory, and punitive damages.

ZDNet reached out to Bose, Segment, and Edelson PC for comment, but did not hear back by time of publication.

The Bose lawsuit is just the latest in a string of privacy-related legal complaints filed against technology companies. In February, Vizio was ordered to pay $2.2 million to settle charges with both the federal and state agencies after complaints were made of the company engaging in invasive data collection activities from February 2014.

A month later, the maker of personal vibrator We-Vibe agreed to pay about $3.75 million to settle a class-action lawsuit following allegations the company spied on customer sex lives without their permission.

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