Apadmi’s Wearable Tech Study:

Do potential customers think wearable tech poses a privacy risk?

Privacy is often identified as one of the biggest barriers to the mass uptake of wearables.

Sue McLean, a lawyer at multinational law firm Morrison & Foerster, told Computer Weekly: “There are huge privacy and ethical implications around wearable technology.” And Ariana Levinson, an associate professor of law at the University of Louisville and an expert in workplace technology, explained to Bloomberg Businessweek: “The concern people have from the privacy perspective is now: You’re being watched all the time.” (source)

And it isn’t just the legal profession highlighting this issue. Hayley Tsukayama, a consumer technology reporter at The Washington Post, noted: “Privacy advocates are concerned the wearable-tech industry is exploding while regulators take a back seat.” (source) So we decided to find out just how much of a priority privacy is for customers.

Sections of the report

What does independent research show?

There have been several interesting studies into privacy and wearable technology.

A major survey of 4,000 adults in the UK and US by cloud computing company Rackspace Hosting found that 51 per cent identified privacy as a barrier to adoption of wearable technology, and 62 per cent said wearables should be regulated in some form. However, an overwhelming 82 per cent of US users and 71 per cent of UK users then went on to say that these devices have enhanced their lives. Specifically, 71 per cent of US users and 63 per cent of UK users report wearable technology has improved their health and fitness, 60 per cent of US users and 53 per cent of UK users say it helps them feel more in control of their lives, and a third of users in both the US and UK revealed it has helped their career development (source).

In a similar vein, media intelligence specialist Gorkana has produced a study showing that 47 per cent of UK adults think using or wearing Google Glass will raise privacy concerns. The same survey indicated that only 12 per cent think they know a lot about Google Glass.

What does our research show?

It would have been remiss of us not to include any privacy questions to our sample. There has already been a substantial amount of research into this area, but we were curious to see if our findings were consistent with the wider body of evidence.

So we asked whether our respondents feel wearable technology poses a threat to their privacy – 42 per cent said yes, 18 per cent replied no, and the remaining 40 per cent were don’t knows. Moreover, we questioned them how they would feel if their employer required them to use wearable technology as part of their role – 25 per cent said they would consider changing jobs, 24 per cent replied they would be happy to do this, and the remaining 51 per cent were don’t knows.

What lessons can be drawn from these findings?

It’s obvious from our investigations that privacy is a very real issue for the wearable technology industry, although it’s by no means insurmountable. A lot of commentators are flagging up the potential privacy implications of devices that can record and relay so much data about an individual. And consumers appear to be taking note, with quite a few admitting that these concerns weigh on their mind when considering whether or not to buy wearable technology.

However, we also need to draw attention to the fact that a huge number of people still don’t have a firm grasp of how wearable technology might impact upon privacy in the first place, as demonstrated by the significant number of ‘don’t know’ respondents in the survey. People are naturally apprehensive about what they don’t understand. It’s interesting that those who go on to purchase a device are overwhelmingly happy with their decision and the benefits it has brought to their lives.

Three actionable insights for businesses

  • Educate the customer. The wearable technology industry needs to do more to seek out prospective customers and explain that this category is about so much more than just privacy concerns. This means not just posting a jargon-filled list of technical specifications on a website but reaching out to politicians, industry groups, journalists, opinion formers, celebrities and consumers on the street in a language that they understand about the issues that matter to them. They need to show that wearable technology is relevant far beyond Silicon Valley and Tech City – it can help us locate missing dementia sufferers, it can transform customer service in shops, it can help us speed up accident and emergency response rates and so on. Perhaps if another survey was carried out after customers had been educated more fully about wearable technology, the percentage of respondents who selected ‘don’t know’ would be significantly reduced.
  • Consult with staff. Any employer that is thinking of introducing wearable technology in the workplace needs to be sensitive to the fact that there may well be concerns in the workplace. To avoid causing unrest, companies should consult with staff from the very beginning. This means doing initial research into what benefits wearable technology could bring for the employer and the employee, presenting this information to the workforce in a fair and even-handed way, inviting feedback, addressing any concerns one by one and only then coming to a decision. By adopting this approach, employees will feel included in the process and they’ll be much more likely to support whatever is decided.
  • Be transparent. Businesses that are developing apps should be open about what user data is being collected and why this is needed.
    There needs to be a clear trade-off between the data collected and the benefits to the end consumer. There also needs to be a clear optin process so people understand what information they’ve agreed to share. Employers that are introducing wearable technology at work,
    moreover, must remember to update their employee contracts, company handbooks and other business processes to ensure staff appreciate
    what data can and can’t be shared.


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