Wearable technology has revolutionized the way we interact with the world around us. From smartwatches that track our fitness to virtual reality headsets that transport us to new worlds, wearables have become an essential part of our daily lives. There is also a growing market for medical wearables. These devices are used to monitor vital signs, track medication adherence, and provide real-time feedback to patients and healthcare providers.
According to Statista, the global wearable technology market was valued at USD 61.30 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach USD 186.14 billion by 2030. The Indian wearable market concluded 2022 with a robust 46.9 per cent year-over-year increase as shipments topped 100 million units with 25.2 million unit shipments during the fourth quarter of FY 2022, registering a 16.5 per cent year-over-year growth, (IDC Report). According to a report by Research and Markets, the global medical wearables market is projected to reach $19.5 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 21.4% from 2020 to 2025.
Wearable devices are generating an ever-increasing amount of data. In 2020, the global wearable data generation market was valued at $14.4 billion, and it is expected to reach $77.4 billion by 2027. Wearable devices generate a variety of data, including:
(a) Location Data: This data can be used to track a user’s movements and activities.
(b) Activity Data: This data can be used to track a user’s heart rate, steps taken, calories burned, and sleep quality.
(c) Environmental Data: This data can be used to track a user’s surroundings, such as temperature, humidity, and air quality.
(d) Biometric Data: This data can be used to track a user’s health, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.
This data can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
1) Health and Fitness Tracking: Wearable devices can be used to track a user’s health and fitness goals.
2) Medical Diagnosis and Treatment: Wearable devices can be used to collect data that can be used to diagnose and treat medical conditions.
3) Research: Wearable devices can be used to collect data for research purposes.
4) Marketing and Advertising: Wearable device data can be used to target users with relevant marketing and advertising.
However, with the increasing use of wearables comes the concern of privacy and security risks associated with the collection and storage of personal data.
The Privacy Threats Posed by Wearables
Wearables are designed to collect and analyze personal data about the user, such as their location, activity, and health status. While this data can be used to improve user experience, it can also be misused if it falls into the wrong hands. The following are some of the privacy threats posed by wearables:
1. Surveillance of Individuals: Wearables enable the surveillance of individuals and their behavior. This can be particularly concerning when it comes to the collection of location data, which can be used to track individuals’ movements and activities. Wearables also collect data on individuals’ physical activity and sleep patterns, which can provide insight into their health status and daily routines.
2. Data Breaches: Wearables store a significant amount of personal data, including contact information, health data, and location data. If this data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for identity theft, financial fraud, and other malicious purposes.
3. Misuse of Data by Third Parties: Wearable manufacturers and third-party app developers may use the data collected by wearables for their own purposes, such as targeted advertising. This can lead to the misuse of personal data and the invasion of users’ privacy.
4. Lack of Transparency: Wearable manufacturers may not always be transparent about the data they collect and how it is used. This lack of transparency can lead to user distrust and concerns about privacy.
The Impact of Wearable Privacy Threats
The privacy threats posed by wearables not only affect individual users but also have broader implications for society and organizations.
1. Individual Users: Individual users are most directly impacted by wearable privacy threats. They may feel uncomfortable with the collection and storage of their personal data, which can lead to a loss of trust in wearable technology. Additionally, if their personal data is misused, they may suffer financial or reputational harm.
2. Society: The collection and analysis of personal data by wearables can have broader implications for society as a whole. For example, location data collected by wearables could be used to monitor the movements of individuals, potentially violating their privacy and civil liberties. Additionally, the misuse of personal data by wearable manufacturers and third-party app developers can erode trust in the technology sector as a whole.
3. Organizations: Organizations that collect and store personal data through wearables may be held liable if this data is misused. This can result in legal and financial consequences, as well as damage to the organization’s reputation. Additionally, if employees use wearables in the workplace, organizations may be held responsible for ensuring that personal data is collected and stored in compliance with applicable privacy laws.
Mitigating Wearable Privacy Risks
There are several measures that can be taken to mitigate the privacy risks posed by wearables:
1. User Education: Educating users about the privacy risks associated with wearables is an important step in mitigating these risks. Users should be informed about the data that wearables collect and how it is used. Additionally, users should be encouraged to take steps to protect their personal data, such as using strong passwords and limiting the amount of personal data they share.
2. Privacy Policies and Transparency: Wearable manufacturers should be transparent about the data they collect and how it is used. This can be achieved through clear and concise privacy policies that are easy for users to understand. Manufacturers should also provide users with the ability to control the data that is collected and shared, such as through opt-in/opt-out features.
3. Data Encryption and Security: Wearable manufacturers should implement strong data encryption and security measures to protect users’ personal data. This includes measures such as password protection, two-factor authentication, and data encryption.
4. Regulation and Compliance: Regulatory bodies should develop and enforce standards for the collection and use of personal data by wearables. This can help ensure that wearable manufacturers are held accountable for the privacy risks associated with their products.
5. Ethical Considerations: Wearable manufacturers should consider the ethical implications of collecting and using personal data. This includes ensuring that users have given informed consent for the collection and use of their data, and that the data is used in ways that align with users’ expectations.
Wearable technology has the potential to improve our lives in countless ways, but it also poses significant risks to privacy and security. It is critical that wearable manufacturers prioritize the privacy and security of their users’ personal data. Wearables enable the surveillance of individuals and their behavior, and can lead to data breaches and the misuse of personal data by third parties. These privacy threats not only affect individual users but also have broader implications for society and organizations. To mitigate these risks, user education, transparency, data encryption, regulation, and ethical considerations are essential. As wearable technology continues to advance, it is critical that we prioritize privacy and security to ensure that users’ personal data is protected.
Khushbu Jain is a practising advocate in the Supreme Court and founding partner of the law firm, Ark Legal. She can be contacted on Twitter: @advocatekhushbu