Although the story has been out there for over a year, a recent twist in a lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors has brought revelations that the team spied on their own fans by turning their team app into a listening device back into the public consciousness. Specifically, a Daily Beast piece about a woman named LaTisha Satchell, who first filed suit last year, only to have the judge throw it out because of a lack of evidence. Now, a different judge has ruled in her favor, and the case is going to trial.
The details are unnerving for fans of the NBA’s most tech-friendly franchise. Specifically, the suit alleges that the Warriors “gained access to tens of thousands of microphones belonging to consumers who downloaded the Warriors App and turned their mobile devices into bugged listening devices.” The app was supposed to use the internal microphone on each user’s phone to track where they were inside the arena, so that the Warriors could send them push notifications offering specific deals (like an opportunity to buy better seats at halftime and move up).
The problem was that once fans left the arena, unless they proactively turned off certain features in the app’s suggested settings, it kept recording every conversation within earshot of the phone. The information was then transmitted back to the Warriors and their technology partners. Think about all the time you spend and all the things you say within earshot of your phone. Then imagine your favorite NBA team listening in on EVERYTHING because they tricked you into turning your iPhone into a secret listening device.
Many of these details are still allegations, and the Warriors will still have their day in court, but this recent ruling from a U.S. District Court Judge that the team may be in violation of the Wiretap Act suggests there is some actual fire here, not just smoke. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t be surprised.
The Warriors are the team of Silicon Valley. From the principal owner Joe Lacob (a former partner at Kleiner Perkins, once the most successful Venture Capital firm in the Bay Area) to his minority owners, who make up a who’s who of current VC superstars, to current stars like Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant (who are all caught up in the fervor of the tech industry and take investing in startups as seriously as they do their jump shots) the DNA of the region courses through the veins of the franchise. And while there are plenty of good privacy advocates in the technology industry who are committed to protecting consumers, the majority of companies – often led by their VC backers – are headed in the opposite direction.
These companies want to know as much about you as humanly possible, and then act offended when you question their motives. Usually folks are okay with a certain level of invasiveness if they receive a tangible benefit. For instance, a company like Facebook accessing your purchase history to show you relevant ads. The line where this crosses over into becoming unacceptable is different for each person, but what the Warriors did clearly crosses it.
Would this have happened with any other team? A team that isn’t based in San Francisco, that isn’t owned by a group of tech-based titans (outside of minority owner Peter Guber), all knee-deep in an industry that is largely based around the collection of personal data? I have my doubts.
But whatever the true motivation for the strategy was, one thing is for sure: if it wasn’t for fans like LaTisha Satchell stepping up and fighting back, the Warriors certainly wouldn’t have been the last franchise to do something like this. Hopefully this trial actually happens and ends up being a wakeup call for all fans going forward.