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  • The Merge

Your Sex Toy Might Be Spying on You

A scene from the 2009 romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth" shows the main character wearing remote-controlled vibrating panties to a business dinner, only to have them unexpectedly activated in the presence of her coworkers. The controller falls out of her purse, and a young boy messes with it at the following table. This comedic scenario, though amusing, highlights a more serious issue that security experts and hackers are now contemplating: the potential risks of internet-connected sex toys.

Imagine a stranger controlling something as intimate as your sex toy without consent. While the scene in the movie was played for laughs, the reality of unauthorized access to teledildonics by internet stalkers or abusive ex-partners is a genuine concern.

Since the pandemic, the surge in online interactions and the need for social distancing have led to a remarkable increase in the sales of "smart sex toys." These internet-connected devices, also known as "teledildonics," have revolutionized people's intimate lives and brought forth significant concerns regarding privacy and data security.

The risk of someone gaining access to the controls or data of these personal devices is a genuine and unsettling prospect. Experts in tech security believe it's only a matter of time before individuals with malicious intent exploit the vulnerabilities of the devices we keep in our bedside drawers.

This article explores the intersection of smart sex toys, sexual privacy, consent, and the implications of internet-enabled devices. From the booming market in sex toys in India to the risks of data breaches, we delve into the complexities surrounding these personal devices.

The Rise of Smart Sex Toys

As people sought alternative ways to connect during social distancing measures, smart sex toys gained popularity worldwide. Sex toys have a long history of technological innovation, often veiled under various disguises to bypass censorship.

Manufacturers went to great lengths to create products like the Hitachi Magic Wand, marketed as heat massagers or muscle relaxers rather than sex toys. In India, where such devices were previously taboo, there has been a notable upturn in their sales.

Smart sex toys are part of the broader ecosystem of the Internet of Things (IoT), sharing the same digital space as various Internet-connected devices. These devices have become part of our daily lives, from app-controlled air conditioners to Amazon's Echo and the Ring doorbell. Smart sex toys, such as vibrators and dildos that can be controlled remotely via the Internet, have also emerged as a popular option for long-distance relationships.

Privacy Concerns in the IoT Landscape

While these sex toys enable exciting and personalized experiences, they also introduce potential threats to sexual privacy.

The data collected by high-tech sex toys can reveal sensitive information about users, such as their sexual orientation and partners. In some cases, companies have faced legal action due to privacy breaches.

By monitoring their users, these businesses can glean a wealth of insightful information about their customer base without coaxing them into filling out severe forms. Moreover, this data could potentially be sold to third-party advertisers, much like the practices of tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

Vulnerabilities in these devices may allow for gathering personal data, potentially compromising user privacy and revealing sensitive information, such as sexual orientation or partners involved. The implications of data misuse and breaches in the realm of smart sex are significant and demand urgent attention.

In 2017, We-Vibe, a renowned Canadian sex toy brand, was forced to pay a $4 million settlement. This penalty came after it was discovered that their vibrator was secretly gathering sensitive user data, such as body temperatures and favoured vibration levels, without any consent from the users. Users claimed the company's Bluetooth-enabled We-Vibe 4 Plus couples vibrator tracked how much time they spent using the device. Standard Innovation agreed to stop recording users' personal information and destroy any collected data as part of the settlement.

Other instances of hacking, such as the Siime Eye vibrator from Svakom, highlight the potential for spying, sexual harassment, and revenge porn. This toy includes a small camera on one end to record video to send to a partner. If you were within the dildo's WiFi range and figured out the password, you had access to the footage.

These industries have little cybersecurity expertise, making this information highly sought after by teledildonics companies looking to enhance and more effectively market their offerings.

At the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, a hacker by the alias 'Smealum' demonstrated how a Lovense Hush teledildonic butt plug could be compromised. He showed that he could take control of the device and its connected computer dongle and inject malware into the associated computer.

Smealum became interested in Bluetooth-connected butt plugs after coming out as gay two years prior. Introduced to these devices by a friend, he was intrigued by the concept of hacking a sex toy. "It seemed silly that you should be able to hack a butt plug or any sex toy," he shared. But on further examination, he realized the real consequences of potential security flaws in these devices.

He now warns that a group of individuals is likely covertly hacking into random people's sex toys. He highlights online sex workers as particularly susceptible, explaining, "Toys are being marketed as tools for cam models to make a living." Utilizing the vulnerabilities he exposed, or something equivalent, a client of a cam model could remotely seize control of their computer.

Adding to the concern, he mentions that the safety features of sex toys, such as maximum motor speed and safe battery charging, maybe software-controlled. "If that's the case, then whoever is controlling the software on your toy could remotely physically harm you," he cautions

Amie Stepanovich, an IoT security expert, emphasizes that any internet-connected device can be exploited somehow. Integrating the Internet into industries with limited expertise in cybersecurity amplifies the risks. Stepanovich and her colleagues filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission after researchers exposed the vulnerabilities of a Wi-Fi-enabled vibrator from Svakom. If someone knew the password and was within the dildo's WiFi range, they could access the video footage recorded by the device.

Balancing Consent and Data Use

Buying sex toys online entails navigating the complexities of consent and data use. Users must be aware that videos or recordings from these devices can be stored, shared, or misused without their knowledge or explicit consent. The conversation around consent extends into the digital sphere, opening up new debates about sexual privacy and responsible data practices. Striking a balance between innovative experiences and user privacy protection becomes paramount.

Legal Challenges and Consumer Protections

The legal framework surrounding smart sex toys is still evolving, presenting challenges in addressing complex issues. Robust consumer protections and nuanced judgments are essential to safeguard individual privacy rights. Companies manufacturing these devices must assume responsibility for ensuring data security and implementing transparent and user-focused privacy policies. The ever-changing landscape of privacy rights in the digital age calls for a reconceptualization of intimacy, emphasizing freedom from harm if intimate details are exposed.

Mitigating Risks and Empowering Users

As with any IoT product, smart sex toys carry inherent risks. Users must carefully consider the risks and benefits associated with networked sex toys. Informed consent, user empowerment, and demanding transparency from manufacturers are crucial to minimizing privacy risks.

So, when picking smart sex toys, weighing the risks and rewards is crucial. Sure, the allure of app-controlled ecstasy is hard to resist, but is it worth sacrificing your privacy?

Check the manufacturer's website if you're worried about a device's security. Look for specifics like "We encrypt everything" and see if they require account creation.

To mitigate these risks, it is also highly recommended to turn off smart sex toys when not in use or ensure that a trusted individual always controls the connected device.

Smart Sex Toys and Their Consequences

The security implications of smart sex toys are alarming. If someone gains control of a device remotely, it can have severe consequences, including privacy invasion, sexual harassment, and even revenge porn.

Victims may not realize their devices have been compromised until too late. The term "screwdriver" has been coined to describe the unauthorized control of a device's functions via the Internet. It's a violation that can be equated to rape in some instances. The potential for strangers to manipulate and control intimate devices is deeply troubling.

Smart sex toys offer exciting possibilities for intimate experiences, but their proliferation raises valid concerns about privacy and data security. Striving for harm reduction and implementing robust data protection measures is essential.

As consumers, we should advocate for transparency, prioritize our privacy, and demand responsible practices from manufacturers. When buying sex toys online, we must be informed about the implications of our choices. By being aware and proactive, we can navigate the intimate world of internet-connected devices while safeguarding our privacy.

The rapid growth of the IoT and the increasing number of internet-connected devices make it crucial to address the privacy and security concerns associated with teledildonics. Stricter regulations and industry-wide standards are necessary to protect users from potential harm and privacy violations. As technology advances, it is vital to prioritize the security of intimate devices and user safety in this evolving landscape.


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