Workplace Wearables and the Loss of Privacy

We’ve all had those late afternoon hunger pangs when it’s time to start fantasizing about going home and making dinner. Imagine if the watch you were wearing could actually find out what ingredients you had in stock, rather than leave the contents of your refrigerator up to memory or fate. Wearable technology is the next frontier of innovation and has been getting a lot of press, as the latest tech-infused accessories have become all the rage with consumers. The newest iterations of smart technology can track everything from our diets and exercise, to our mood and sleep patterns.

Wearable technology has already blossomed into $50 billion dollars worth of investments, led by heavy hitters like Google (their Google Glass product), with Apple and others not far behind with their own fashionable devices. However, the next generation of wearable technology is finding its way into the workplace. Currently, a research collaboration between the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London and cloud company Rackspace, is assessing the impact of wearable technologies on productivity and performance in the office. Taking biometrics a step further, the real-world implementations of this research could give employers valuable data about employees’ non-work activities, sleep cycles, optimal performance time, and much more.

Despite the possible benefits, wearables utilized in the workplace could reveal a lot more than your average steps per day or heart rate. While having a better grasp of one’s lifestyle profile through biometric data could have a positive impact on productivity and work satisfaction, it also presents some new security and privacy threats for users. Beyond employers monitoring mobile device usage, tracking and collecting information on behavioral data raises questions as to how much personal information companies should collect on their staff. Aside from the privacy risks, this information also has the potential to be exploited by both the companies collecting it and hackers alike. Some companies like BP and Autodesk have even gone as far as incorporating wearables into corporate wellness programs that lower insurance premiums for employees who are more active.

How wearable technology will truly manifest itself in the workplace is yet to be seen, but the same privacy and safety precautions used for mobile devices should still apply. This phenomenon of wearable Internet-connected devices ties into the larger Internet of Things (IoT) discussion we’ve had previously, and with each new gadget connecting to one another the security stakes are raised a little higher. Like mobile devices, fitness bands can capture information about movement using GPS, which in turn could provide valuable details about daily routines and even current location. It’s the Wild West out there, and the IoT allows devices and data that were once separate from each other to be interconnected—for better or for worse.

As a security-conscious user, it is important to take precautions with all of your technology, whether it’s a Fitbit or smartphone. For mobile devices, always remember to use security software like McAfee® Mobile Security, free for Android and iOS, and know what kind of information is being collected. Wherever wearables end up, understanding the impact of data collection is key to protecting privacy in the office and beyond.

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