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Google speakers are "vacuuming up" users' personal data, Sonos suit says

Speaker company Sonos filed a lawsuit against Google on Tuesday claiming that the search giant stole its technology. Google is also using the misappropriated tech to "vacuum up invaluable consumer data from users" to fuel its continued dominance in the internet search and ad market, Sonos also alleges.

If the Sonos suit succeeds in court, Google could be forced to pull more than a dozen products off the market. Sonos says Google is currently using its technology, infringing on the company's patents, in Google Home Mini speakers and Pixel phones, tablets and laptops. 

Sonos also wants Google to pay monetary damages for its alleged patent infringement. Sonos did not specify a dollar amount of damages in the suit, but said the infringement is ongoing. The complaint was filed in federal court in California, as well with the U.S. International Trade Commission.

"Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology in creating its audio products," Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement. "Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution."  

The main thrust of the case has to do with patent infringement. In its suit, Sonos says it shared proprietary technology with Google engineers in 2013 that allows wireless speakers to connect seamlessly from room-to-room in order to integrate the Google Play software into its devices. 

That was before Google entered the speaker space. Two years later, Google launched a speaker that some reviewers said had similar functionality to Sonos' speakers, according to the suit. Sonos alleges Google stole Sonos' technology in developing its own speaker.

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Sonos said it later informed Google that it believed the search giant was infringing on Sonos' patents, according to the suit. Google also rebuffed its offer to work a deal, Sonos claims.

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Google denied it had infringed on Sonos' patents and vowed to fight the suit. 

"Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights, and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith," a Google spokesperson said. "We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously."

While the Sonos suit focuses on the alleged patent infringement, it echoes a growing chorus of critics, including presidential contender Senator Elizabeth Warren, who say Google and big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook are unfairly leveraging their dominance in one area of business to thwart competitors in other markets. 

The suit says Sonos believes Google is using its consumer speakers for "data collection" and cites media reports that Google plans to use that data to "profit from later sales of goods and data about buying habits."

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The Sonos suit did not identify what data it believed Google was using its speakers to capture. Sonos declined to comment to CBS MoneyWatch on that point. 

Google cited its Nest brand's privacy policy statement when asked about its data-collection practices, but declined to comment further. 

Investors reacted to the suit with something of a shrug. Shares of Google's parent, Alphabet, fell just over $2 on the news, or about 0.2%, to $1,396. Sonos' shares rose just 8 cents, or about 0.5%, to $15.75.

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