This article was produced in collaboration with Court Watch, an independent outlet that unearths overlooked court records.
A woman just brought a class action lawsuit against one of the biggest online retailers for sex toys, Adam and Eve, claiming that the site gave Google information about her searches for 8-inch dildos and strap-on harnesses.
The plaintiff, who isn’t named in the complaint but goes by “Jane Doe,” claims that Adam and Eve uses Google Analytics, which has an anonymization feature that obscures IP addresses of users, but that the site didn’t have that feature enabled. She’s suing PHE, the owner of Adam and Eve, as well as Google, for allegedly disclosing her “sexual preferences, sexual orientation, sexual practices, sexual fetishes, sex toy preferences, lubricant preferences, and search terms” without her consent.
“By using the Google Analytics tool without anonymized IP feature, PHE is sharing with Google Plaintiff’s online activity, along with her IP addresses, even when consumers have not shared (nor have consented to share) such information,” the complaint claims.
Specifically, the plaintiff takes issue with PHE telling Google that she was browsing the site’s categories for “lesbian toys,” women’s sex toys, and realistic dildos. The complaint describes her online shopping trips in detail, claiming that Analytics captured her looking at listings for “Kingcock Strap-on Harness With 8-Inch Dildo” and showed that she added a “Pink Jelly Slim Dildo” to her cart. It also claims that “any information submitted by consumers through the search bar on the site’s homepage is shared with Google,” which in her case was a search for “strap-on dildo.”
“The above information, combined with the consumer’s IP address, enables Google to identify the person who has interacted with PHE’s Website or has submitted information through the site,” the complaint claims. “Website consumers did not know that the communications between them and PHE would be shared with a third party, Google. PHE did not obtain consent or authorization of Website consumers to disclose communications about their Private and Protected Sexual Information. The surreptitious disclosure of Private and Protected Sexual Information is an outrageous invasion of privacy and would be offensive to a reasonable person.”
She’s suing PHE and Google for violations of the California Invasion of Privacy Act, which prohibits services from communicating information about users to third parties without their consent. Someone doesn’t have to have suffered “actual damages” to bring legal action under CIPA, and can sue for $5,000 per violation.
A Google spokesperson told me in a statement: "We have strict policies and technical features that prohibit Google Analytics customers from collecting data that could be used to identify an individual. Site owners - not Google - are in control of what information they collect and must inform their users of how it will be used. Additionally, Google has strict policies against advertising to people based on sensitive information.”
The class action is seeking California residents who’ve used the Adam and Eve site for adult products, and is seeking $5,000 for “each time it disclosed a message, report, or communication to Google without consent.” Considering that almost 40 million people live in California, and Adam and Eve is the most popular online sex toy and adult products retailer, this could end up being a massive amount of money.
Adam and Eve was founded in 1970 by Phil Harvey and Timothy Black as a mail-order condom service. At the time, this violated the Comstock Law (which, by then, wasn’t being strictly enforced), which prevented sending “immoral goods” including condoms and other contraceptives through the mail. Federal agents raided the company’s office in 1986 on obscenity charges and detained and searched 118 employees. A jury found the owners not guilty.
"The mail-order condom market was just sitting there waiting for somebody," Harvey told Mother Jones in 2002. "We'd sit down at the end of the week and pay our bills and I'd say, 'There seems to be some money leftover here.' That's about how much we knew about business."
Adam and Eve did not respond to a request for comment.