As Juul explores ever-more creative means by which to curb what government officials refer to as an “epidemic” of teen vaping, one of its latest stabs at that undertaking involves collecting personally identifying data to verify that a user is legally allowed to use its products.
The Juul C1, as it’s called, is a Bluetooth-enabled device that allows its user to do things like monitor their pull count, lock the device, and locate the device if it’s missing—all through a paired mobile app. The device launched through a pilot program in the UK this week following a rollout in Canada. But the app requires users to jump through a number of privacy hoops before they’re able to use it.
Citing Juul’s Dan Thomson, a managing director of the company’s UK operation, the Financial Times reported Sunday that the device requires “stringent age verification checks that included facial recognition and two-step background check with third-party databases.”
As was previously reported last year by Bloomberg, which cited a source familiar with the matter, the company is also toying with a geofencing feature that would shut the device down in spaces where it is prohibited, such as schools. But according to a Juul spokesperson, the company does not currently collect that information.
“No GPS data is shared with JUUL. The GPS location data used for the device locator feature is only contained on a customer’s smartphone,” the spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email. The company declined to comment further on its “product roadmap” or future features.
Still, the company collects a breathtaking amount of data on users with a Juul C1 device. That information includes a user’s phone number (used as part of its authentication process), date of birth, national identification number, and of course, information related to their vape habit.
According to the company, the usage data it collects on its users is de-identified and is not stored with their names. User data is “securely and privately stored” using a randomized identifier that it assigns to a user’s phone, the company said, and that identifier is not linked with personal information. Juul did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how long it stores user data.
“We take data privacy very seriously. Data insights enable JUUL Labs to continually improve our products, and to better help adult smokers in their switching journey,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added Juul does not sell or share user data with third parties unless it has a user’s “explicit permission, or in compliance with applicable legal and regulatory requirements.”
Juul’s latest rollout comes as it struggles to swat back regulators who claim it’s complicit in an uptick in youth vaping. In April, outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb threatened that if Juul could not adequately commit to curbing the use of its products among youth, they could be yanked altogether.
“If we see another sharp increase in the youth rates this year, we’re gonna have to look at more draconian measures like potentially taking these pod-based products off the market entirely,” he said.
The company said it’s currently gathering feedback about the Juul app from participants in its pilot program.
“Ultimately, as we continue to innovate and refine the features and functionalities of the app, we want to give adult smokers the opportunity to manage their consumption of nicotine by providing them with options and tools to control their usage if they so choose,” the spokesperson said. “At the same time, we are committed to restricting youth from accessing our products.”
Correction: This story erroneously stated the publication of a Bloomberg report as “last week.” It has been updated to reflect that the story was published in 2018. We regret the error.