Wearable tech at work – an insight too far?

Manufacturers of wearable tech are harvesting data continuously. And for many, the data is more valuable than the revenue from the hardware. Nike is a great example of a company that has learned about the way its shoes are used because of the real-time data generated from its wearables. For these brands, it’s not about selling watches any more.

Data harvesting brings up all kinds of privacy issues, and there’s clearly a risk that personal information could be misused, wherever it’s stored. That raises an interesting question: how much data are you willing to share, and with whom? Would you share with your friends? What about your boss?

Invading Our Digital Space

For many of us, privacy is the most important factor when choosing a wearable or smartphone. We want to be able to use advanced functionality, but we need to trust the provider to store our data responsibly. Additionally, most of us only want to share data if we’re going to benefit from it. We wouldn’t wear a fitness watch if we couldn’t see the stats.

This is a key point, because wearable data sharing can shift from cool to creepy very quickly.

PwC surveyed 2,300 employees, and found that 46% would be happy to wear a free wearable device that their boss had access to; if they were also given flexible working as part of the deal the figure rose to 55%. These figures are respectable, but they are not a huge sign of support for work-based wearables, and this comes down to our reluctance to open up our data for public scrutiny.

Employers could potentially deploy free smartwatches as a way to encourage physical fitness, but for the user, there’s a question mark over the consequences. After all, smartwatch and fitness band data has already been used in court. In this recent case, Fitbit data appeared to show that the claimant was walking around when she said she was asleep.

To use a less serious example, if your boss gave you leave to go for a run, would you be happy that they could check your fitness data to see where you’d been? What about your team-mate, who was looking over their shoulder at the time?

Reaching a Compromise

With millennials making up the majority of the workforce, wearables will inevitably become commonplace, and could become integrated into Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. PwC found that younger staff were more likely to accept a free wearable (59% said they would). Bundling benefits into the deal made it even more compelling (70% said they’d take up the offer).

Arguably, businesses are getting better at managing privacy. Companies like Facebook have had to learn the hard way. But small businesses are less likely to have had experience in using this kind of data appropriately, and on top of that, they have the challenge of managing everyone’s login details securely.

When the person managing your team can also see where you’ve been, or what you get up to in your leisure time, there’s a clear opportunity for misuse of that data. Until there are clear compliance policies, there’s likely to be a degree of healthy scepticism about the real value of workplace wearables.

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