Culture

Bose Accused of Monitoring—and Sharing—What You Listen To

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See below for an update, including a statement from Bose.

Audio company Bose is being sued by Chicago resident Kyle Zak for collecting data about his listening habits using his Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones.

“People put headphones on their head because they think it’s private, but they can be giving out information they don’t want to share,” Christopher Dore, a lawyer representing Mr. Zak told Reuters. Bose has not yet responded to the lawsuit, which is asking for $5 million in damages.

The lawsuit says that many other Bose products do much the same, including the Bose SoundSport Wireless, SoundSport Pulse Wireless, QuietControl 30, SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II, and SoundLink Color II. Bose, located in Framingham, Mass., is one of the largest makers of premium headphones. They make models of all types, including wired and wireless, and noise reduction headphones and earbuds.

The complaint was filed in a federal court in Illinois and explains that when the headphones are used with the accompanying Bose Connect App on their smartphones, it collects data about the songs played and sends this information to third parties.  It also sends information about your personal identity. The claim says that Bose knowing what people listen to provides information about one’s personal life, religious, and political views.

The app is designed to provide additional features when you use your headphone. It’s described on Apple’s App store as follows:

Bose Connect is the companion app to your Bose Bluetooth® headphones and Bluetooth speakers.

EASY ACCESS TO EVERYTHING
Get quick access to the key features on your products, like the auto-off timer, volume control and battery readings. And it’s the easiest way to manage multiple Bluetooth connections. But that’s just the beginning.

SHARE THE MUSIC
MUSIC SHARE lets you split audio from one device to two pairs of Bose® wireless headphones, so sharing music is easy. New PARTY MODE lets you sync two SoundLink® Revolve speakers for double the audio, and new STEREO MODE immerses you in music by separating the sound across two paired speakers.

GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR HEADPHONES
CONTROLLABLE NOISE CANCELLATION on our QC®30 headphones lets you decide how much of the world to let in by adjusting the level of noise cancellation right in the app. And the built-in HEART RATE MONITOR for our SoundSport® Pulse headphones displays your heart rate clearly in the app.

AND SO MUCH MORE
From viewing product details to personalizing settings, get the most out of your Bose wireless products. It even downloads the latest software in the background and only installs it when you’re ready. See how our simple app can make all the difference

Nowhere does Bose disclose that it’s collecting and sharing your data. The claim also notes that the Bose Connect app will “continuously record the contents of the electronic communications that users send to their Bose Wireless Products from their smartphones, including the names of the music and audio tracks they select to play along with the corresponding artist and album information, together with the Bose Wireless Product’s serial numbers.”

The product serial number information is important, notes the lawsuit, because it can identify customers if they have registered their headphones with Bose. The company can then can identify the personal information with the person’s name, phone number, and email.

The suit claims that one of the companies that Bose provides this information to is Segment io. According to their website,

(We) help you track newly registered users the right way. The process of shifting from an anonymous visitor to an identified user requires some special tracking. Tracking signups correctly is a key step in your marketing funnels and identifying those new users is important so their information can be sent to your sales, support and email tools. …..Every identified user must be assigned a unique userId so they can be tracked consistently across different browsers or devices. When a new user registers, they should be assigned a userId at that point. Usually this userId is the same as the id that identifies them in your database.

This is just another example of a company secretly collecting our personal information without disclosure, and then selling it for additional revenue. You’d think Bose would be content to profit from the sales of their hardware alone, but apparently not. This comes on the heels of the FCC allowing Internet providers to do much the same without disclosure. Perhaps that will be a defense Bose will cite. “If the government allows it, why not us?”

UPDATE April 25, 12:44 p.m. EST: Bose has responded with these two statements, which don’t directly address the accusations. In fact, their latest response acknowledges that they collect data and says nothing about what they do with it. They do note that you don’t need to use their headphones with the app that’s been accused of collecting the data.

A message to our Bose Connect App customers
In response to the lawsuit described above, Bose has issues these two statements. Surprisingly they say very little and don’t address the charges directly. Instead it says that you can use their products without the Connect App, that the plaintiffs charged violates your security.

April 20, 2017
We understand the nature of Class Action lawsuits. And we’ll fight the inflammatory, misleading allegations made against us through the legal system.

For now, we want to talk directly to you.

Nothing is more important to us than your trust. We work tirelessly to earn and keep it, and have for over 50 years. That’s never changed, and never will. In the Bose Connect App, we don’t wiretap your communications, we don’t sell your information, and we don’t use anything we collect to identify you – or anyone else – by name.

If there’s anything else we think you should know, you’ll hear it straight from us.

April 23, 2017
We told you you’d hear things straight from us. We’ve answered your questions when they’ve come in, but when news stories repeat misleading information from a class action lawsuit, we have to repeat our response to clarify. So we’re going to share with everyone what we’ve shared with those of you who’ve contacted us directly, and what we’ve shared more broadly to correct the record.

First, our privacy policy can be found on the Connect App. You’ll find that the Connect App collects standard things to make your experience, and our products, better — like device information, app performance, and app and product usage. That includes information about songs playing on the device, volume played, and other usage data.
But you have to be using the Connect App with your Bose product for that to happen. You can use every Bose Bluetooth product without the Connect App.

For as long as we’re hearing from you, you’ll keep hearing from us. And we’ll keep posting additional information that you haven’t asked us about, too.