Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Big Data for Big Nicotine - Insights from the trademark registration for the JUUL C1

Yesterday, word went round that JUUL had opened a flagship store in Canada's flagship city. And to mark the opening of the store on Toronto's Queen Street West, the controversial vaping company launched a pilot program for its new "C1" device.  

The JUUL C1 differs from the current ubiquitous model in that it is equipped with bluetooth capacity, and is intended to be used in conjunction with a mobile app. Visitors to the store or JUUL's Canadian web-site (or the U.K. site where the C1 is also being sold) would have every reason to think that this has been done for their benefit:

How can the JUUL app benefit me?
The JUUL app, currently a pilot, is designed to help users manage their nicotine consumption and combat unauthorized use. The app provides connected features such as:

• Usage Monitor, gain greater control and visibility of your usage. Real-time monitoring with daily, weekly, and monthly tracking of your puff use.
• Device Lock, JUUL C1 features automatic device security. You can manually lock the device, or set it to Auto-Lock to prevent unauthorized use when your JUUL C1 is not being used by you.
• JUUL Locator, keep track of your JUUL C1. When in range, ring it to play a sound. When out of range, see where it was last paired to your phone to help you stay on your switching journey.

Missing from this sales-pitch, and from the Google Play store is information on how the mobile app connected to the vaping device can help JUUL monitor the consumer behaviour of nicotine users.

For this information, a more helpful source is the trade-mark database managed by Industry Canada.  Not quite 2 weeks ago (on July 22), JUUL filed its description of goods that would be sold under the JUUL C1 label. (Trademark registration 1976819). In addition to the location and blocking functions, the C1 also seems designed to monitor and report on the movements and communications of vapers. 

In their own words, JUUL C1 covers a host of other data-collection functions: 

"computer software for use in posting, transmitting, retrieving, receiving, reviewing, organizing, searching and managing text, audio, visual and multimedia data and content via computers, mobile phones, wired and wireless communication devices, and optical and electronic communications networks; computer software for calculating, mapping, transmitting and reporting information relating to the location, movement, proximity, departure and arrival of individuals and objects via computers, mobile phones, wired and wireless communication devices, and optical and electronic communications networks."

Juul is not the first company to include surveillance mechanisms in its device. Reuters commissioned a teardown of the bluetooth function of IQOS, and reported last year that the technology would allow the company to gather data from unwitting users.

In the era of digital marketing and Big Data, this type of consumer research can't be considered a surprising development. But shocking, nonetheless!.