Wearables

What you need to know:

Wearable devices and health trackers are increasingly popular with consumers, with many tech and health experts expecting double digit growth over the next few years. They are often marketed and encouraged to be used as part of an individual’s overall wellness by enabling the tracking and interpreting of health data. Many medical institutions, healthcare providers and corporate wellness programs are encouraging the usage of these devices for remote health-monitoring and to incentivize healthy behavior.

With the rise of this technology, privacy concerns are raised about how this data will be utilized and where it may end up. The technology companies that manufacture these devices will have access to your health data, along with other personal data points, which could then end up in the hands of third parties. If you participate in healthcare programs utilizing these devices for monitoring then your data will also be in the hands of healthcare organizations, which have a history of sharing data with other companies.

The current market for wearables is still comparatively small compared to other technologies like smartphones, but as this market continues to grow, along with the advancement of health monitoring technology, these datasets along with the uses of them will only increase. This will lead to your data becoming more attractive to third parties like advertisers, insurance companies and hackers.

Furthermore, current privacy laws on health data under HIPAA are not equipped to deal with the new types of data being produced, collected and analyzed. Only healthcare organizations are subject to HIPAA and not the new host of companies collecting health data, including the large tech firms producing these devices. The 20-year-old HIPAA legislation also does not have strong enough restrictions on companies sharing identifiable health data, particularly since the advancements in data science have made “de-anonymizing” data easier than ever.

Learn More:

Why wearable devices will be the next big privacy nightmare

How health information can be tracked through wearables and why HIPAA is not equipped to deal with it

Learn how researchers were able to de-anonymize physical activity data

How Google’s acquisition of Fitbit has broad implications on health and fitness data

The potential vulnerability of these devices to hackers

Hacking incidents: Fitbit’s incident,  Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal app’s incident and ransomeware attack at Garmin

What to do:

Read here for a summary of the privacy policy of the major wearable manufacturers, and here for how to control data collection on their apps.

If available, set up two factor authentication for extra security from hackers.