Bose accused of spying on end users, data mining their private records via headphone app

One of the major drawbacks to the Internet of Things ecosystem and “smart” devices more generally is the way both are treated as a gold mine for gathering information on end users, often without their knowledge or consent. Bose is the latest company to stand accused of such shenanigans in a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal district court.

According to plaintiff Kyle Zak, the spying began when Bose released a mandatory Bose Connect application that all users must install to “fully operate its wireless products.” What Bose didn’t draw much attention to, according to the suit, is that Bose Connect collects data on all the musical content or audio books that you listen to on its headphones. As the suit notes, this is a major invasion of privacy.

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. None of Defendant’s customers could have ever anticipated that these types of music and audio selections would be recorded and sent to, of all people, a third party data miner for analysis.

The complaint details how Bose collects registration data from its customers, including device serial numbers, then uses the Bose Connect application to monitor in real-time what people listen to. Bose allegedly also gathers data on what you don’t listen to, or which tracks you repeat. This data is shipped off to companies like Segment.io, a known data miner. According to the lawsuit, multiple Bose products are affected, including the QuietComfort 35 headphones, the SoundSport Wireless, SoundSport Pulse Wireless, QuietControl 30, SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II, and SoundLink Color II.

Yet another assault on privacy

Assuming the Bose accusations are true — and frankly, after Vizio, Facebook, ISPs, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, the NSA, Radio Shack, Yahoo, and local police officers you’d be hard-pressed to convince me they aren’t — it’s another example of how corporations have waged an all-out war on the idea that anything about you is or ought to be kept private. More and more, I have wondered if the root of this problem isn’t the concept of licensing software products as opposed to purchasing them, particularly when combined with the free application model pushed by Apple and Google as part of their mobile business models. The license model paved the way to treat customers like perpetual profit centers; the free application model gave companies rhetorical cover for doing so.

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While I don’t think the current situation was an intended consequence of court decisions legalizing the idea that a software product constituted a license rather than a sale, we’ve seen plenty of evidence of corporations extending the degree to which their products gather data about their users on the auspices of providing a better experience (read: spying on people for profit). In an environment where the customer is viewed as someone you interact with at the point of purchase, there’s much less reason to view their literal existence as equivalent to an ongoing revenue stream. In the brave new world we currently occupy, the act of being born is an invitation to be tracked, marketed, segmented, spied on, and sold to. Politicians, far from being proactive on this topic, see themselves as actively assisting the people who actually matter (those with .com addresses and multi-billion dollar valuations) in improving the lives of we fleshbags by giving meatsuit data away to anyone who wants it, then justifying the entire affair with bankrupt references to consumer ‘choice.’

I once knew someone who argued that humans were no longer the dominant life forms on Earth. His argument, which wasn’t entirely a joke, was that we had been domesticated by corporations. Our conceptions of life, happiness, and economics had been collectively shaped to fit views that corresponded to what was good for corporations and to conceptualize the issues solely on these terms.

Every time I see someone defend this kind of privacy invasion by claiming “Well, companies have to make money,” I’m reminded of his argument. We’ve created an economic system in which our literal existence is treated as de facto permission to be monetized for someone else’s gain. That should be worrying to anyone, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. It’s not about being liberal or conservative — it’s about standing up for the rights of people to have private thoughts, personal opinions, and secret lives that they share only with the people they want to share them with.

Updated: April 19, 2017 — 8:56 pm

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