Legal tangle Bose faces lawsuit over allegations headphones spy on listeners

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Bose, the maker of high-end audio players and headphones, is being sued for allegedly tracking the listening habits of its headphone users and then selling the information to third-party companies without permission.

The proposed class–action was filed Tuesday in Chicago and alleges Bose has been collecting data of its users’ choices in music, podcasts, news programming and all other audio they listen to.

The lead plaintiff is Kyle Zak, who bought a US$350 pair of wireless Bose headphones in March and then registered them online using his name and address.

He also downloaded Bose Connect, an app that allows customers to pair their headphones to their smartphones using a Bluetooth connection. The app can also remotely share music between devices as well as adjust playlists and noise cancellation settings.

The suit alleges though that Bose designed Bose Connect to collect the titles of the audio files its customers play and then “transmit such data along with other personal identifiers to third-parties — including a data miner — without its customers’ knowledge or consent.”

The lawsuit alleges that because Bose encourages customers to register their headphones’ serial numbers using their name and address, the company is able to link the data it collects to individual users, “thus enabling Bose to create detailed profiles about its users and their music listening histories and habits.”

Zak says he never provided his consent to Bose to collect his listening habits, nor did he ever provide his consent to Bose to disclose that data to anyone else.

Bose has not offered any public comment on the proposed class action suit.

CTV technology analyst Carmi Levy says wireless headphones are just the latest everyday device that can now connect to the Internet and pass information from users to companies.

“You would be amazed what you can learn just by tracking data from a pair of headphones or a simple app on your smartphone,” he told CTV Toronto, adding there are big profits to be earned by knowing what audio and video content people are consuming.

“Data is today”s online currency. Companies will share it and sell it to gain competitive advantages. We are simply pawns in this very large chess game,” Levy said.

The lawsuit claims tracking a user”s audio history can “provide an incredible amount of insight” into their personality, behavior, political and religious views, and personal identity.

Privacy experts say we should be concerned about the kind of data major corporations are collecting about our listening, watching and web browsing habits.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner and now the director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University, says corporations shouldn’t be able to learn about what we watch and listen to without our permission.

“They can use (that data) in ways that were never intended, which can be an ultimate nightmare. And it’s none of their business. You should be able to retain control over your own personal data,” she said from Boston.

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Pat Foran