Juul’s Upcoming Smart Device Could Pose a Major Privacy Risk
Experts are already sounding the alarm over concerns that insurers and employers could get access to data about e-cigarette use
Juul — the smoking-replacement startup known for its tiny nicotine vapes, fruity flavors, and sky-high valuation — is apparently getting into the data business. The company, which took a $12.8 billion investment from cigarette giant Altria in December, is creating a new Bluetooth-enabled device and corresponding mobile app. Juul claims the offerings are part of its overall mission to help cigarette smokers switch to its product. But the company is also reportedly launching a program that could give third parties access to Juul customer data — including sensitive details such as usage habits.
Experts tell OneZero they’re concerned about the privacy implications of these services.
“Like any technology, an app can be used for good or ill — or more likely a little of both,” says Margaret Foster Riley, a health law expert at the University of Virginia. “I’m not surprised if they sell data to third parties — that’s where the money is.”
Juul entered the market as a product of the vaporizer company Pax Labs in 2015 and quickly became the most popular e-cigarette in America. Sales of the vape blew up between 2016 and 2017, when Juul spun out into its own entity, moving from 2.2 million devices sold in 2016 to 16.2 million sold in 2017 according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though Juul bills itself as a health-tech company — the product is premised on its ability to help cigarette smokers quit — it’s been accused of sparking a nicotine vaping epidemic among teenagers. E-cigarettes “have the potential to undo years of progress if a new generation of young people becomes addicted to nicotine,” authors affiliated with the anti-tobacco non-profit the Truth Initiative wrote in an op-ed in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year. The concerns put Juul at the center of an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration that probed whether the company deliberately marketed its product to teenagers. Juul has since made branding alterations, such as switching to older models…