Wearables and the risk to users' data privacy

Most people don’t realize the risks to privacy and security posed by wearable devices. A report by researchers at American University and the Center for Digital Democracy includes recommendations and explanations for the primary concerns associated with wearable technologies.

"Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior," the report states. The report also acknowledges that as these technologies continue to improve in data colleting capabilities, the amount of information at risk will continue to grow.  

The recommendations for the protection of collected data are for all industries involved in wearables. These include:

  • Creating enforceable standards for both data collection and how that data is used.
  • Setting processes for measuring the benefits and risks of data use.
  • Introducing tougher regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies.

"The connected-health system is still in an early, fluid stage of development," said Kathryn C. Montgomery, Professor of Communication with American University, and a co-author of the report. "There is an urgent need to build meaningful, effective, and enforceable safeguards into its foundation."

The report also confronts the weak regulatory system associated with the devices; without a strong set of federal laws, the data collected by wearables is ripe for hacking.

"Americans now face a growing loss of their most sensitive information, as their health data are collected and analyzed on a continuous basis, combined with information about their finances, ethnicity, location, and online and off-line behaviors," said Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, also a co-author of the report. "Policy makers must act decisively to protect consumers in today's Big Data era."