Is It Assault If Your Sex Toys Are Hacked?
Watch out -- someone could hack your vibrator.
Recently, a woman had her butt plug hacked, and subsequently controlled, while she was presenting on stage. Thankfully, it was an elaborate stunt designed to demonstrate to the audience just how susceptible these devices are to being hacked.
This woman did not have to consent, or ‘opt in’ to her sex toy being paired with another Bluetooth device (in this case, someone’s phone). She did not have to give any information (for instance, a serial number or password) to hand over control of the toy to another person.
All that needed to happen was for the device to be switched on, and for someone else to scan the Bluetooth connected devices in the immediate vicinity and choose to connect.
In fact, in 2017, a man called Alex Lomas went around the streets of Berlin and used his phone to pull up a list of Bluetooth discoverable LoveSense Hush butt plugs, rife for hacking, just to demonstrate how easy it was.
The field of teledildonics has exploded over the past decade, and it’s now common for sex toys to be ‘smart’. They can connect to Bluetooth and WiFi, be remotely controlled, collect data (body temperature, location, vibration patterns) and some even have video and audio recording capabilities. (Because, you know, we all want to see what our cervixes looks like.)
In theory, you are meant to match them to a device (yours or your partner's) and then they can be used spice things up in long-distance relationships, experiment with power play and make those late night runs to the supermarket more interesting.
The data can be stored and tracked by the parent company, and it isn't usually actively disclosed to consumers that the data is being collected.
Unsurprisingly, the devices are bringing up new, unchartered territory when it comes to consent laws, and what the go is if someone hacks a device (or the data from a device) without the owner’s or user’s permission.
It begs the question -- if someone hacks your vibrator without your permission, is it a sexual offence?
In Australia, laws around what constitutes sexual harassment or assault vary from state to state. In Victoria, the current laws describe sexual offending as: "a broad range of sexual behaviours by another person that make you feel uncomfortable, frightened, threatened. It doesn't always include physical harm or injury but it can do".
Given the vagueness and wide scope of these laws, and the fact that in Australia an extremely low percentage of sexual assault and harassment cases are reported and then successfully prosecuted, it seems highly possible that someone hacking your toy and assuming control of it without your consent would barely elicit an eye roll.
Lawyers I spoke to were unable to comment, as these types of cases are too new for them to know or even speculate whether charges could be laid or offenders be prosecuted.
Access Now, a not-for-profit advocacy group based in the US, is calling for policymakers and manufacturers to catch up to the risks posed by these products, with its Policy Manager, Amie Stepanovich, calling teledildonics “one of the biggest threats that exists” in the IoT [Internet of Things] space. She added that in her experience, teledildonics is met with a high level of slut-shaming and victim-blaming from people claiming that if consumers use sex toys, they assume all risks. Furthermore, there are no minimum security requirements for manufacturers when making the toys.
READ MORE: The History Of Vibrators Is A Bit Of A Buzz
Closer to home, Rachel Payne, General Manager of the Eros Association, Australia's industry association for adult retailers, said, "Manufacturers should ensure their products are body-safe and uphold stringent privacy and security standards.
"If you have concerns about a product you should contact your retailer, or the manufacturer directly."
There's little doubt lawmakers are going to need to play catch up on this, and fast. Like most Australians, I would feel compromised, humiliated and threatened if I was indulging in a bit of long-distance play with my partner only to have an anonymous third party join in without permission -- and then be unsure of my legal recourse.
In the meantime (and I know I shouldn’t have to say this), make sure you check the privacy and data collection policies of any companies you have bought Bluetooth-enabled devices from. Check if there is a system update (these are usually issued to strengthen security) and explore if there is an ‘opt out’ option for Bluetooth connection or data collection. These are small steps you can take while manufacturers and lawmakers start to tackle the problem.
We all have the right to enjoy healthy, active sex lives without feeling scared or threatened by a toy potentially being overtaken by someone anonymous without permission or consent. Having your sex toy hacked (or hacking someone else's) might seem like a ridiculous premise, but that's the reality we now face -- smart sex toys are everywhere, security is close to non-existent, and until manufacturers and policymakers catch up, you might be leaving yourself, or your partner, exposed.