Unless you live under a social media rock, you’ve no doubt seen Snapchat users freaking out over their latest update which, for those not in ‘ghost mode’, shares your current location – right down to the very address you’re at – with other users. Dubbed as creepy and borderline stalker-worthy, both parents and users of the app have reacted negatively to this invasion on their privacy. This is just one in many stories about possible security issues related to technology.
This fear of giving too much information away online has become increasingly common in the past few years as we’ve become more and more aware of privacy issues from using our phones, tablets and computers. This has led to us actively obsessing over who’s tracking our internet history, reading our text messages and even monitoring what we buy at the shops. It feels like we’re delving into a Big Brother society and it’s making us much more conscious about what we share online.
Yet even the most privacy-wary of us have missed one major leak in our war on privacy – wearable technology! While we might be incredibly wary of what we post online, we are more than happy to plug our bodies into wearable devices that monitor everything from our heart rates to brain activity and relay this information to an app. Where does this information go? Is it secure? And how much does this information reveal about us?
I have tried out 4 different smartwatches. Each one of them connects to my smartphone which means it has access to my data. Now, I am generally not a paranoid person at all. I mean, I have this blog, I use social media, and most of my posts are public. But, even so, there are some things that none of us want others to be able to access… banking data, social security numbers, and anything else that could lead to identity theft.
To answer the latter, our activity reveals a surprising amount of information about ourselves. Just take a look at a recent study that used EEG headsets to monitor the brain activity of people engaging in a card game. The results showed that it was possible to distinguish how skilled a player was at that card game based entirely on the intensity (or lack) of the participant’s brain activity in certain areas. While this may appear entirely innocent – even intriguing – is this just a step forward towards scientists being able to decode our actual thoughts in the future? Hey… I watch a lot of sci-fi movies.
Of course, wearable technology is a long way away from reading our minds. However, there are plenty of current concerns about our trackers. True, it’s nice to know our resting heart rate, our steps taken and how well we sleep, but when we relay all this information to the wearable’s associated app, who exactly owns the data? Is it safe from third parties?
Wearing a health tracker isn’t like getting tested at the doctors, where your results are kept in strict confidence and protected by laws. Instead we are actively relaying information about our health and fitness – in real-time – to a database that might not be incredibly secure. What if our employers or insurance companies got hold of this information – would our results mean we’d be less likely to get a job or be accepted for health insurance? Perhaps this information will give insurance companies an excuse to raise premiums, making them unaffordable for some. This is something to think about, and worrying in America where health insurance is so vital and controversial right now.
Many of the companies that manufacture and distribute these wearables claim that privacy is protected, but this vague notion doesn’t properly outline what measures are taken and whether encryption has been used. Without knowledge of how well our data is protected, it could well be that a data breach could happen any day now. Plus, many say that information may be shared with third parties without your permission, which is completely legal in most states as wearable technology is yet to be considered Protected Health Information (PHI).
Whether you choose to wear a wearable fitness tracker, or the like, will be entirely down to personal preference. You simply have to weigh the options of whether the information it gives you outweighs the impact of a third party knowing your data too, whether from legal sharing or a breach.
It will probably take a few years before we know the true consequence of wearables and our privacy. Until then, if you decide to wear yours, try to ensure that your privacy settings on the app or otherwise are as tight as you can get it so you’re at least not publicly sharing any unwanted information.
Personally? I love the convenience of having my smartwatch. I love being able to see notifications, read them quickly, and track my steps, while running around from day to day.
How do you feel about wearable devices?
Stay tuned for my thoughts on my Huawei Watch, and a few other smartwatches out there.