Are privacy fears affecting the rise of wearable technology?

As more wearable devices continue to enter into the market and into our lives, questions are being raised as to how vulnerable this may be making us when it comes to potential security and privacy risks.

Smartphones already have the capacity to hold a large quantity of data about us as individuals and wearable technology is likely to work in a similar way - with fitness trackers able to store information about our health, for example, or the routes taken during exercise sessions.

There have been many pieces of research that have looked into the connection between possible privacy risks and wearable technology. Rackspace Hosting, a cloud computing company, surveyed 4,000 people in the UK and US and found that 51 per cent of those who took part believed privacy was an issue when it came to the adoption of wearable technology, and 62 per cent said wearables should be regulated in some way.

Our own research found that 42 per cent of people in the UK thought that wearable technology posed a risk to their privacy, with only 18 per cent saying that they were not concerned about privacy risks. It is interesting to point out that the remaining 40 per cent did not know either way.

We also asked our respondents how they would feel if they were required to use wearable technology to complete their job at work. 25 per cent said they would consider changing jobs, 24 per cent would be happy to adopt the technology, while the remaining 51 per cent were unsure.

From this, we can see that many people are concerned about privacy issues when it comes to wearable technology. And with regular reminders that these devices have the potential to store large amounts of personal data about us, these issues are consequently impacting on the decision of the consumer as to whether they should buy wearable technology or not.

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It is, however, important to highlight that there is still a lot that we don’t know about wearable technology and how it might actually affect privacy. This is evident by the amount of respondents who answered ‘don’t know’ when asked about the risks of privacy in our survey. It’s understandable for people to be anxious or cautious about things they are unfamiliar with or do not know much about.

Many people still don't fully understand the privacy issues around wearable technology or appreciate its potential to dramatically improve lives in areas such as health and social care.

For this reason, tech businesses and app developers need to look at educating consumers so that they understand the potential issues clearly and they also need to be transparent about the types of consumer information that will be collected. And if employees are to use wearable technology in the workplace, they need to fully aware of how this will be implemented.

Educate

Tech businesses need to reach out to their customers better by getting rid of the jargon and actually speaking in terms that the general public will understand. This way they will be able to explain the issues that surround wearable technology and show how they might relate to their lives.

The category of wearable technology is so much more than just privacy concerns but at the moment, consumers are not completely aware of the advantages that these devices can provide and how they can be beneficial to society.

For example, these devices aren’t just for the tech-savvy but can be used by doctors performing surgery, to locate missing dementia suffers, or as methods of payment in shops. Without reaching out and communicating with potential customers, these advantages will be overshadowed by the potential issues that are concerning people – such as privacy fears.

Consult with staff

For employers who are considering to bring wearable technology into their companies, this needs to be discussed in detail with employers who will be required to use it. This way everyone can express their thoughts and concerns and any issues can be addressed.

Employees should be informed from the start so that they will feel fully involved in the process – and they’ll be more likely to support the end decision. To ensure that employees understand exactly what is involved, the employer needs to highlight the benefits of using wearable technology within the company and how staff members will be required to use it.

This should be presented in a fair and even-handed way, inviting feedback, addressing any concerns one by one and only then coming to a decision.

Employers need to ensure that staff know what data can and can’t be shared if it is decided to bring wearable technology into the workplace. This can be done by updating employee contracts, company handbooks and other business processes to ensure staff are clear on the policies.

Be transparent

One of the biggest concerns for consumers is that they do not fully know what data is being collected about them when they use and app and how this information is then used. People need to know exactly what information they are agreeing to share with the app. App developing businesses need to communicate with their customers more openly so that it is clear as to the information that is collected and how this will benefit the consumer.

For example, some apps may store information about the user’s latest purchases so that it can make informed product recommendations based on this data. The developer would then need to make it clear that this information is securely protected and will not be shared with any third parties.

Wearable technology presents a wide range of possibilities for the future and has the potential to benefit our lives in so many different ways – from the way we are able to pay for things in stores to the way our doctors deliver our life-saving healthcare. But without properly communicating with the consumers to alleviate any fears that they may have, wearable technology may struggle to take off as quickly as hoped.

With so many possibilities come a whole host of questions and apprehension. These devices are still developing and evolving and understandably people will be hesitant until they know the full extent of what they can really do.

Nick Black is co-founder and director at Apadmi.