Read the full article by  Rose Minutaglio at Elle.com

Benevolent hackers are testing out how safe sex toys really are.

The 2009 romantic comedy The Ugly Truth didn’t leave much of an impression, but, in a small way, it was prescient. In one scene, Katherine Heigl’s character wears a pair of remote-controlled, vibrating panties to a serious business dinner after—bear with me—a coworker calls her prude. 

Ten years later, a small group of security experts and sex-positive hackers are thinking seriously about the questions raised by Heigl’s scripted fiasco. What would it mean for a complete stranger to control something so intimate? Without your consent? And what if the person with the remote isn’t an unwitting kid, but an internet stalker or an abusive ex who’s hacked the vibrator? With the rise of “teledildonics,” or internet-connected sex toys, the risk of someone accessing an intimate product’s controls or the data it gathers is very real. And tech security experts think it’s only a matter of time before someone with bad intentions exploits the vulnerabilities of what’s in our bedside drawers.

Teledildonics are considered part of the “Internet of Things,” which encompasses all of the everyday devices now hooked up to the internet. App-controlled air conditioners, Amazon’s Echo, and the popular Ring doorbell, which allows you to see who is at the door and talk to them via your smartphone, all fall under the IoT umbrella. So do butt plugs your partner can make vibrate and webcam-connected dildos that allow someone to watch you masturbate. Analysts predict the IoT to grow exponentially in 2020, with a projected 20.4 billion products in use by next year, and smart sex toys are being hailed as a godsend for people in long distance relationships.

These days, sex toy manufacturers are confronted with a new set of issues. In other corners of the IoT, researchers have repeatedly shown how much personal information our connected devices gather, how little we know about how manufacturers will use the data, and how easy it is for hackers to steal it.

Data collected by high-tech sex toys, meanwhile, could reveal a user’s sexual orientation or with whom they’re using the toy. In 2017, a company called Standard Innovations settled an almost $4 million class-action lawsuit after users claimed the company’s Bluetooth-enabled We-Vibe 4 Plus couples vibrator kept track of how much time they spent using the device. As part of the settlement, Standard Innovation agreed to stop recording users’ personal information and destroy any collected data.

Rose is a Staff Writer at ELLE.com covering culture, news, and women’s issues.