Watch Your Privacy

02 June 2015

From watches, glasses to fitness trackers, wearable technology is fast becoming the latest trend in today’s technical and digital revolution. While many question whether it’s a trend that’s set to last, what is becoming clear is that “wearables” - as they are known - hold the potential to transform businesses and become as ubiquitous as the smartphone.

However, while the developers of wearable technologies expound the boundless opportunities these new gadgets promise, both individuals and businesses should be prepared for the threat they pose with regards to privacy and data protection.

The rise of wearable technology was marked recently with the launch of the Apple Watch. With a long and established history of popularising existing technologies, from the Macintosh computer, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, Apple will be hoping that history will again repeat itself. But they are not alone. Samsung, Motorola, Microsoft, Huawei and Google are also investing in smartwatches, with the latter already experiencing limited success with Google Glass.

For many businesses, wearables hold the potential to transform productivity in the workplace. With instant access to important data, retailers can now empower their staff at the flick of a wrist. The days of a shop floor assistant abandoning a customer while they dive into the depths of the basement looking for a size nine is destined for the history books.

But as is often the case with technological developments, efficiency brings with it new challenges, no more so than when it comes to privacy and data protection. In empowering their staff, businesses run the risk of allowing their employees, whether surreptitiously or inadvertently, to record sensitive information on their wearables. With customers increasingly questioning how their personal data and spending habits are captured and shared, wearables pose a potential reputation threat in the making. Furthermore, widespread use of wearable technologies in a business also means a larger digital footprint and with it, increased avenues for attack from hackers.

For wearables to become a staple of modern day life, the key to their success will depend on creating a permanent digital identity for the user. This way, one device, whether it is a watch or a pair of glasses, will act as the users’ credit card, phone, computer, driving licence and car key. But with so much personal and sensitive information on one device, it is only a matter of time before wearables come into the cross-hairs of the unscrupulous hacker.

Until now wearable technology has been most successful in the health and fitness sector. Data is collected on how users sleep, how often they exercise and where they exercise. But as wearable technology advances, the data created and captured by wearables is set to become ever more personal and detailed.

As is the case now, many users of wearable technology are unaware that their devices are collecting and in some cases sharing sensitive information about where they live, where they go, as well as information on their health. In the not so distant future, such information may prove invaluable to anyone who wants to get at an organisation or individual by blackmailing them or discrediting them publicly.

These issues may not be new. The widespread use of smartphones continues to raise privacy and data protection questions, but with wearable technology set to fully integrate technology with our day to day lives, individuals and businesses need to be wary and watch their privacy.

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About the Author

Nick Brough

Associate

Originally a criminal defence solicitor, Nick’s skills are invaluable in the sensitive and unpredictable situations where clients face reputational and privacy threats.

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