On August 14, 2023, the firms wh Law and Milstein Jackson Fairchild & Wade filed a class action against the companies Tile, Inc.; Life360, Inc.; and Amazon.com, Inc. for their roles in developing and marketing tracking devices that are used to stalk and harass people nationwide. As alleged in the Complaint, these “Tile trackers” violate numerous consumer protection and privacy laws.
Stalking is an Epidemic
Each year, an estimated 13.5 million people are victims of stalking in the United States, with nearly one in three women and one in six men experiencing stalking at some point in their lifetime.1
Stalking can manifest in many ways, most often through unwanted and repeated behaviors such as phone calls, texts, visits, gifts, internet posts, or any other series of acts that would cause fear in a reasonable person. Regardless of the acts the stalker employs, the common theme of stalking behavior is the fear elicited in the victim.
This fear undermines and erodes a victim’s autonomy and drastically disrupts their day-to-day life. One in eight employed stalking victims miss time from work because of their victimization and more than half lose more than five days of work.2 One in seven stalking victims move as a result of their victimization. Unsurprisingly, stalking victims suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and social dysfunction than people in the general population.
Technology has increased the tools available to a stalker, with burner phones or call-blocking software providing anonymity and free email services and social media platforms providing a limitless vector for harassing electronic messages and posts.
One of the most dangerous and frightening technologies employed by stalkers is using real-time location information to track victims. These technologies allow stalkers to follow their victims’ movements in real-time and to undo any attempt on the victim’s part to evade or hide from the stalker. If one’s location is constantly being transmitted to an abuser, there is no place to run.
One of the very first products to make constant, location-based surveillance possible for average consumers is the Tile tracker. First introduced in 2013, the Tile tracker is a small, plastic square, usually the size of a quarter, that transmits its location back to its owner.
From the moment of the Tile tracker’s release, Tile marketed its product both explicitly and implicitly to track people—particularly women. The platforms on which the company advertised included pornographic websites, where visitors would leave disturbing comments about using the trackers to find and stalk women. When marketing consultants brought this to the attention of Tile’s leadership, the company’s executives mocked the findings and fiercely admonished female employees who expressed concern about this advertising strategy.
Despite knowing the propensity for misuse of the Tile tracker, Tile waited nine years before implementing any type of safety feature on its trackers. Worse still, shortly after introducing those safety features, the company released a mechanism by which Tile owners could disable the features, thereby intentionally thwarting any recourse or protection a potential victim might have.
Importantly, Tile does not act alone. Within the last several years, the company partnered with Amazon, to harness Amazon’s nationwide location-tracking Sidewalk network. This partnership exponentially expanded the reach and efficacy of the Tile tracker, and accordingly, the partnership exponentially magnified the danger posed to victims.
In a 2015 lawsuit filed by a former Tile engineer for workplace discrimination, the engineer stated that in 2013 (i.e., during the initial phases of Tile’s launch of the Tile Tracker), “Tile’s advertising and marketing strategy…exhibited the Company’s lack of respect for women and view of women as sexual objects. For example, Tile advertised on pornography sites, sites about erectile dysfunction, and other dubious outlets. Tile’s advertising videos also prompted some viewers to post comments about using ‘Tiles’ to stalk women and commit sexual violence against them.
When an external consultant presented a data finding to Tile’s management that consumers perceived Tile’s advertising to be sexist, [then-COO of Tile, Michael Farley] mocked the finding.”
In April 2016, a former Texas beauty queen said a man used a Tile he placed in her purse to stalk her. “I sleep with my bedroom door locked now,” the victim told a reporter. “I’m paranoid throughout the day. Sitting in traffic is the worst, thinking he’s looking directly. into my car.” Worse, Tile purposely engages in obfuscating and stymieing any inquiries from law enforcement. This conduct puts victims’ lives at serious risk, including but not limited to the lives of Plaintiffs.
It was not until early 2022 that Tile finally provided an anti-stalking feature for its products. Called “Scan and Secure,” the technology would require using the Tile App, enabling them to scan for unknown Tiles or Tile-enabled devices that may be traveling with them.
However, this safety feature—released almost ten years after the release of the Tile Tracker—still leaves the vast majority of the population vulnerable for several reasons.
- The stalked person would have to have downloaded the Tile App.
- The Tile App has limited functionality.
- The Tile App does not help you locate the device that is tracking you.
The day of the feature’s release, company CEO Chris Hulls published a blog post where he claimed that focus on Tile Trackers’ role in stalking was “misguided,” and that “anti-stalking features don’t solve the problem.” Hulls claimed that anti-stalking features within his product would “put the onus on the victim,” and that rather law enforcement and stricter regulation of GPS tracking technology and apps would be more effective.
An Example of it Use for Stalking:
Plaintiffs were stalked, via a Tile Tracker, following a breakup between Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy and her then-girlfriend, on or about October 17, 2016. On or about October 31st, 2016, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy’s ex broke into her car, in her garage, and hid a Tile Slim in the console of her Jeep.
Over the next several months, the stalker would mysteriously and unexpectedly appear at locations where the Plaintiffs were. Plaintiffs had moved to a new residence and refused to tell the stalker where they lived when she asked. However, she quickly found the location and drove by the new house in an effort to intimidate them.
Shortly after that, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy received a disturbing email from her stalker, which stated, inter alia, “I feel like the Stephanie Gordy I knew and loved has died. You are no longer walking this earth.”
She knew that the stalker carried a gun in her car. Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy purchased a bulletproof vest and began carrying it with her to her work. The plaintiffs’ cars were also vandalized. One car was keyed down the driver’s side door. It sat in front of the Plaintiffs’ new residence.
The stalker also began showing up at destinations out of town when Plaintiffs went on long trips. For example, In February 2017, Plaintiffs drove to Fredericksburg, Texas— approximately 4 hours from their then-home in Houston—for a long weekend with friends. That Saturday, Plaintiffs drove to a restaurant just outside of the town, only to be confronted by the stalker when they pulled into the parking lot.
On March 10, 2017, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy was driving home from work and searched for something in the middle console of her Jeep. She found what she thought was an item of trash, but upon pulling it out and inspecting it, she realized that it was a Tile Tracker.
That evening, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy contacted Tile via the chat function on its website. The Tile employee confirmed that the Tile Tracker was associated with the email account of the Plaintiffs’ stalker.
Two weeks later, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy arrived home from work to find her stalker sitting in her parked car, several houses away from Plaintiffs’ new residence. Plaintiffs again called the police, who made another report.
Several days later, in early April 2017, a Houston Police Department office called the stalker and told her to stay away from Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs began to fear that their stalker’s behavior would escalated, and had locks changed at their work. However, the behavior continued. On June 4, 2017, the stalker appeared behind Plaintiffs during their morning commute, weaving in and out of traffic to try to catch up to their car. The stalker got directly behind Plaintiffs’ Jeep, then swerved along side the car and passed Plaintiffs, pulling in front of them and slamming on her brakes.
At this point, Plaintiff Stephanie Ireland Gordy decided to press charges against the stalker.
However, as Houston Police Officers conducted their investigation, they found that requests to Tile for information were routinely impeded and obstructed. 91. At first, Tile told the officers that they could not help them unless they purchased an iPhone and downloaded the Tile App. The officers did this but could not get any appreciable information this way.
The officers then subpoenaed Tile for information such as
- “Location history for the Tile, Inc. tracking device in question including Latitude and Longitude and Date and Time for each time the tracking device connected to or was within Bluetooth range of the electronic or mobile device used or assigned to access the account and device[.]”
- “Any and all support services information related to the aforementioned Tile, Inc. device to include: email request submissions, recorded outbound telephone calls and direct emails, personal information provided to Tile’s customer care team; name, email address, phone number, and mailing address.”
Tile never responded to the subpoenas.
Tile Refuses to Help Those Being Stalked
Tile refused to comply, stating that they would not accept an out-of-state subpoena.
The officers from Houston then contacted the San Mateo police, who aided the investigation by sending their own subpoena to Tile, who then produced only two pages of responsive documents, which were of limited value. Specifically, they only identified the stalker’s User ID and email, and the names and activation dates of the Tile Trackers associated with the stalker’s account. Tile did not provide any information regarding the historical location of these devices, and stated that they had no further responsive information or documents.
Moreover, any further requests from the police to help decipher the scant information that Tile did provide were rebuffed.
Armed with virtually no helpful information from Tile, the police nonetheless arrested the stalker and charged her with illegal installation of a tracking device in July 2018.
Stalker Gets Off Because Tile Would Not Provide Evidence
But because Tile refused to provide any further information to the authorities, the case against the stalker ultimately was dismissed by the Harris County District Attorney—due to lack of evidence—on May 1, 2019.
Ironically, it was only through the civil courts that Plaintiffs received fulsome discovery responses from Tile. In or about June 2019, Plaintiffs were sued by their stalker following the dismissal of the criminal charges.
But in so doing, the stalker opened herself up to discovery. Among the responsive documents that were provided to Plaintiffs were multiple emails from Tile ([email protected]) to the stalker, from November 1, 2016 continuing through March 10, 2017, showing that the stalker had a Tile Slim labeled “SDG Jeep” (Stephanie D. Gordy) that showed the location of Plaintiffs.
Further, in response to the civil suit, Tile provided log data associated with the stalker’s Tile Trackers (which it had failed—or declined—to provide in the law enforcement subpoena), which demonstrated that prior to the stalker’s breakup with Stephanie Ireland Gordy, her Trackers had been “pinged” (i.e., their location had been sought) only 30 times from January 31, 2016 to October 25, 2016. But within one week of the breakup, until March 10, 2017 (the date that Plaintiffs discovered the hidden Tile Tracker in their Jeep), the stalker’s phone “pinged” Tile’s servers 16,385 times.
Further, Tile had records of communications from the stalker—both over email and chat—shortly after March 10, 2016 (the date that Plaintiffs discovered the Tile Tracker hidden in their Jeep), seeking to rename the “SDG Jeep” Tile Tracker and then seeking to deactivate all Trackers associated with the account.
Had Tile provided any of the above information in response to the initial inquiries from law enforcement, Plaintiffs’ criminal case against their stalker likely would not have been dismissed. In any event, it is clear that Tile did not respond in good faith to law enforcement’s initial subpoenas.