Do Potential Customers Think Wearable Tech Poses A Privacy Risk?

Jun 16, 2015

As wearable technology continues to evolve, several investigations and studies are emerging to try and figure out just how much of an impact these innovative devices will have on our lives. Will fitness trackers change how we work out? Can wearable tech revolutionise the work place? And perhaps one question that is on a lot of consumer’s minds – will this technology compromise privacy? Nick Black, co-founder and director at Apadmi, examines just how much of a concern privacy is to customers and the effect that it may be having on the rise of wearable technology.

A recent study by Apadmi found that 42% of people in the UK believed that wearable tech devices presented a risk to their privacy with only 18% replying no, and the remaining 40% answering that they were unsure. Moreover, when respondents were asked how they would feel if their employer required them to use wearable technology as part of their job 25% said they would consider changing roles, 24% replied they would be happy to do this, and the remaining 51% were unsure.

It can be deduced from this that there is a fear amongst some consumers around the potential threats that wearable technology poses to their security and privacy. It is, however, interesting to point out that both of these questions received a large quantity of ‘don’t know’ answers. This is likely to be due to the fact that there is still a lot that we don’t know about how our privacy may be affected by these devices. At the moment there are a variety of different products entering the market and not everyone is entirely sure which ones to buy and how they will benefit our lives. But with many commentators highlighting the fact that these devices have the capabilities to store a whole host of information about the user, it’s no wonder that these concerns are weighing on people’s mind when they are deciding whether to purchase wearable tech or not.

Another major survey that was commissioned by cloud computing company Rackspace further supports the idea that issues of privacy may be affecting the uptake of these devices. The survey of 4,000 adults in the UK and US found that 51% identified privacy as a barrier to the adoption of wearable technology, and 62% believed that some form of regulation should be put in place.

To overcome this barrier, technology and app companies need to do more to communicate and educate consumers on wearable tech to address their concerns and better inform them on how these devices may indeed affect their lives. There are many discussions about the potential risks that wearable technology presents but there isn’t enough focus on how it can actually benefit users.

Education is one of the main areas that requires a lot of attention – why will consumers want to buy a product that they know very little about? At present it’s not entirely clear why these devices are relevant to the everyday user. So it is the responsibility of the wearable technology industry to convey the advantages more evidently to their target audience in a language that they will understand and can relate to. They need to highlight that this technology is not just relevant to those in Silicon Valley and Tech City but that it has so many different uses that can benefit all areas of society.

For example, healthcare is one sector that can benefit massively from the adoption of this technology, with wearable technology being used to monitor and improve our fitness by tracking our physical activity.  If we were to carry out a follow-up survey in the future once consumers were more educated about wearable technology, then perhaps the number of ‘don’t know’ responses would be considerably less.

Further to the point on education, customers also need to be aware of the kinds of information that may be stored about them. App developers need to be open about this and should make it clear what information will be collected and how this will then be used. Again, this all comes down to ensuring that developers are communicating properly with their customers and their needs to be a clear opt-in process so people understand what information they’ve agreed to share. 

As for employees who are being asked to use wearable technology in work, they also have the right to know exactly what this will involve before it’s even implemented. During the initial process of deciding whether to introduce devices into the work place, the employer needs to take a sensitive approach on the subject as it’s likely that staff members will have a number of concerns. This means that employees should be involved through every step of the decision so that they are fully informed in how they will be expected to use the technology and the advantages and disadvantages of using such devices. By carrying out discussions, employees can voice their concerns or thoughts and these can then be addresses before a decision is made. At the end of the day, it is these people who will be using the devices on a day-to-day basis so they should definitely have a say in the decision making.

Currently, wearable technology is facing some teething problems, but as with all new technology it will take time for people to fully allow devices to integrate their lives. As technology continues to advance, we are opening ourselves us to new exciting possibilities but also new potential risks too. Until people understand what these devices can do and how they can improve their lives, there is likely to be some scepticism. And this is where the wearable technology industry needs to be work harder to reach out and connect with prospective customers.

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