In Europe, companies are giving employees wearables that monitor exercise and activity. According to Olivia Rudgard in the Telegraph, it's part of "an effort to make them fitter, happier and more productive."
It's also considered by some to be invasive. My first thought was of that somewhat creepy Christmas song about Santa:
He sees you when you're sleeping; He knows when you're awake; He knows if you've been bad or good; So be good for goodness sake!
One scientist, Andre Spicer -- an expert on organizational behavior and the founding director of ETHOS: The Centre for Responsible Enterprise at Cass Business School, part of City University London -- thinks it's a bad idea and could be counterproductive:
Many of the health interventions end up making people feel more anxious and guilty – people start to think ‘well I’m productive in my job, and I’m a good employee, but am I less employable because I’m a bit overweight?’”
Some companies are pushing the envelope. One life insurance company in the United Kingdom is using wearable tech to base premiums on the number of steps a person takes. A Swedish truck manufacturer is monitoring employees around the clock. Spicer thinks it's all too much:
“It’s a blurring of boundaries between the public life, or the workplace, and the home life. Do you want your employer knowing how many hours you sleep at night, or how much you ate in the evening? It’s a real invasion of people’s privacy.”
Your employer isn't the only one who might be interested in the data on your Fitbit or Apple Watch; the police could be too. In a recent Pennsylvania case, a woman told police she had been assaulted. They found her Fitbit, and according to the local newspaper quoted in Fusion:
[A] Fitbit device she was wearing told a different story, the affidavit shows. The device, which monitors a person’s activity and sleep, showed [the woman] was awake and walking around at the time she claimed she was sleeping.
In the end, thanks to the Fitbit evidence, she was charged with “false reports to law enforcement, false alarms to public safety, and tampering with evidence.” She volunteered to give her Fitbit password to the police, but it's interesting to think of what might have happened had she withheld it. Last year the Supreme Court concluded that a phone is a private device like a home, and cannot be searched without a warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision:
Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life". The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.
Whether that applies to a Fitbit or an Apple Watch is probably another case. However it's clear that the information we are gathering on our wearables could be of interest to a lot of people we might rather not share it with.
Related on MNN and TreeHugger:
- What is the Right to be Forgotten movement?
- Do the risks of data breaches outweigh the benefits?
- From Smart Grid to Big Brother?