Lawsuit Claims Bose Headphones Spy on Users

Bose Headphones
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Bose Headphones

A lawsuit filed in Chicago on Tuesday (Apr. 18) claims that headphone maker Bose uses an app to collect data on the listening habits of its consumers and provides that information to third parties without the knowledge or permission of its users. According to Fortune, the complaint accuses the Boston-based company of violating the WireTap Act and a number of other state privacy laws, noting that scanning a person's audio history can potentially provide a snapshot of someone's life and views.

"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," reads the complaint, which also notes that a person's audio history may contain files like LGBT podcasts or Muslim call-to-prayer recordings.

The lead plaintiff is Kyle Zak, who says in the complaint that he took Bose's advice to "get the most out of your headphones" by downloading their Bose Connect app, giving the company information including his name, phone number and email address. Zak would like to represent other headphone owners in the suit over his allegations of illegal data mining, including his claims that Bose built detailed profiles of their listening histories and habits. He argues that Bose allegedly shared that information with marketing companies, including San Francisco's Segment, whose website offers to "collect all or your customer customer data and send it anywhere."

Bose's QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling headphones can be used without the smartphone app, though the app opens up more options for users, as well as, according to the suit, opening the door to data collection. Bose's SoundSport Wireless, Sound Sport Pulse Wireless, QuietControl 30, SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II and SoundLink Color II are also named in the action. Bose says the Connect app is meant to manage connected audio devices, adjust noise-cancellation and see other settings. 

Though the lawsuit doesn't specify damages, it claims the case is worth more than $5 million; Bose had not replied to Fortune's request for comment at press time. Attorney Jay Edelson, who filed the lawsuit, said companies shouldn't be able to mine data just because they can. "Companies need to be transparent about the data they take and what they are doing with it, and get consent from their customers before monetizing their personal information," he said.

According to the Business Insider, the Connect app's latest licensing agreement notes that it may "collect, transmit and store" pieces of consumer data to "servers operated by third parties on behalf of Bose," though it does not specifically say anything about collection audio file data.