Lawsuit alleges that Warriors' app illegally listens in on users

Ball Don't Lie
Joe Lacob is not excited. (Ronald Martinez/ Getty Images)
Joe Lacob is not excited. (Ronald Martinez/ Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors have been at the forefront of bringing innovations of the tech world to the NBA. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — their primary owner, Joe Lacob, is a partner at a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm and much of the team’s Bay Area fan base works in tech. For instance, they were one of the first NBA franchises to develop its own mobile app, and plenty of others have followed suit.

It appears that the team’s groundbreaking app may have done more than usher in a new era of NBA team-to-fan interaction. A class action suit filed in San Francisco alleges that the Warriors’ app records users with phones’ microphone and tracks their location even when not using the program. From Marisa Kendall of Silicon Beat:

A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco this week claims the team’s free app secretly uses the microphones on fans’ smartphones to listen to and record their conversations. The app, which lets fans view live scores and share posts from Warriors games on social media, asks for permission to access fans’ microphones, but doesn’t disclose the extent that it listens in, according to the suit, which was reported by The Recorder on Tuesday.

“Even more disconcerting,” the lawyers wrote, “the app turns on the microphone (listening and recording) any time the app is running. No mater if a consumer is actively using the app or if it is merely running in the background: the app is listening.” […]

The suit names the Warriors, New York-based Signal360 (which licenses the technology at issue) and Pennsylvania-based Yinzcam (which developed the app) as defendants. […]

The lawyers claim the Warriors app employs new “beacon” technology, which allows it to track where its users are. Beacons placed throughout an area send out certain audio signals, which are picked up by a smartphone’s microphone and used to pinpoint the phone’s location. That information is used to send customers targeted adds or to glean information about their shopping behaviors. […]

In an emailed statement, Lauren Cooley, chief operating officer at Signal360, denied the allegations.

“We have been made aware of the suit and it appears there is a misunderstanding about how our technology works,” she wrote. “Our technology does not intercept, store, transmit, or otherwise use any oral content for marketing purposes or for any other purpose.”

Another report in the San Francisco Chronicle lists the exact ramifications and potential payout:

If true, this would violate the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The suit seeks statutory damages equal to “the sum of actual damages suffered plus any profits defendants earned through its unlawful conduct” or “$100 per class member per day of the defendants’ violations, or $10,000 per class member,” whichever is greater.

In other words, simply tracking location isn’t the alleged crime — it’s doing so via microphone. Signal360 appears to be arguing that they only use the microphone as a medium to track audio signals, not to record the users’ conversations.

The Warriors have currently denied comment on the matter, as has Yinzcam.

It’s far too early to know the merits of this case, but the allegations are certainly serious. Plenty of people have written about privacy in the age of ubiquitous smartphones and the uncomfortable bargain that users make with companies. However, the relationship between a diehard fan and a team can be far more personal and intense than that of a curious shopper and 17 retailers looking to offer the best bargain. If an NBA team violated its fans’ trust, then it would raise serious questions about how the league uses technology to reach out to fans.

At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine that a ruling against the Warriors would stop fans from using their phones to track information about their favorite teams. The NBA is very popular, and smartphones are so common now that it’s hard for many people to live without them. Team apps aren’t going to go away, and the fans that use them will just have to hope that the franchises and companies that produce them have their best interests at heart.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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