Class action lawsuit accuses Temu of spying, reading users’ private messages

BOSTON — Temu is one of the most popular shopping apps in the world, but a new lawsuit accuses the Chinese-owned company of spying on its customers.

The Hagens Berman law firm filed an amended class action complaint against Temu on Feb. 16 on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs in Massachusetts, California, Illinois, New York, and Virginia. The plaintiffs accuse Temu of “purposefully and intentionally” loading its app with malware and spyware and misleading consumers about how it uses their data.

“[Temu] gains access to ‘literally everything on your phone,’” the complaint said, quoting industry and new reports cited in the court filing. “This is particularly concerning, given that biometric information such as facial characteristics, voiceprints, and fingerprints are immutable characteristics that can be misused by unscrupulous actors.”

The complaint also accused Temu of being particularly dangerous because it “‘bypasses phone security systems to read a user’s private messages, make changes to the phone’s settings and track notifications.’”

Hagens Berman’s attorneys turned down Boston 25′s request for an interview to speak with them about the suit. They declined to make the Massachusetts plaintiffs available to speak about their specific experiences.

Temu burst onto the scene in 2022 and says it has more than 100 million customers worldwide. It has been one of the most downloaded shopping apps in the country. It’s owned by Chinese-based Pinduoduo, Inc., with a corporate office listed in Boston. In November, Boston 25 visited that office on St. James Ave, to speak with someone inside the Boston Temu headquarters, but security told us they did not have a working number for the company. Temu says it has more than 100 million customers worldwide.

A Temu spokesperson in New York City responded to Boston 25 one day after this report was initially published.

“We categorically deny the allegations and intend to vigorously defend ourselves against this meritless lawsuit. The complaints parrot a report put out by a short-seller, calling itself Grizzly Research, which has an obvious incentive to try to drive down Temu’s stock price through misinformation.  The report even includes a disclaimer that its contents are ‘not statements of fact,’” the spokesperson said.

The company says “safeguarding privacy” is one of Temu’s core values, in line with industry standards and spelled out in its privacy policy. But not all consumer advocates agree.

“If you download Temu’s app, you’re going to find that you are allowing an enormous invasion of your privacy,” said Boston 25 News Consumer Adviser Clark Howard. “You’re giving them permission to look at so much of your personal, private stuff that’s on your phone.”

The court filing accuses Temu of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, and Massachusetts privacy laws.

North Shore cyber security consultant and CEO of Cyberbit Caleb Barlow said consumers need to check their phone’s settings to find out what data they’re allowing third-party apps to see.

“The first thing we really have to think about as consumers is does this app need access to this data?” Barlow said. “What we have to recognize with apps coming out of China is that they fall under a different regiment from a privacy perspective than what we’re used to here in the United States.”

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW