Wearable tech to 'erode' your privacy

Online privacy is a key issue for internet users. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Online privacy is a key issue for internet users. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Modern smart wearable devices and their accompanying apps pose a risk to those who are concerned about personal data, says an expert.

According to industry analysts, smart wearable technology will become as near ubiquitous as smartphones.

"Our report details many watched and often contended trends in the industry. While there has been much uncertainty around wearables, we predict that consumer interest will lead to a lucrative market with $3bn in sales in glasses, watches, and fitness bands," said Mark Casey TMT Industry Leader at Deloitte recently.

But the technology has raised concerns about their ability to collect personal data.

"Wearables? You can never trust them. There've been a whole lot of scandals in the last year or so," David Taylor, Legal Edge Consulting specialist in ICT law, told Fin24.

Data scandal

Taylor is a former professor of ICT law and has more than a decade's experience advising corporations on big data, cloud and security systems.

One data scandal that caused embarrassment to a global company was the inadvertent collection of personal data by Google during its Street View programme.

The company apologised and was fined $7m in the UK, but the introduction of smart wearable devices means that people are potentially handing over more personal data to companies who may not be domiciled in SA.

"Your exercise device tracks where you're running. A lot of people were having problems because it shows you where you start and where you end. Every morning you run, you're out of your house for an hour - they know what route you're taking," said Taylor.

And as wearables become less obtrusive, they may allow discreet collection of data, ostensibly for convenience.

According to Gartner, by as early as 2017, 30% of wearable technology will be near invisible as the technology blends into users in everything from eyewear to jewellery.

"Already, there are some interesting developments at the prototype stage that could pave the way for consumer wearables to blend seamlessly into their surroundings," said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner.

Application culprits

But Taylor also argued that the applications were the real culprits when it came to data collection.

"It's not the devices really that is the issue. The issue is you have applications that take that data."

Harvard University professor Margo Seltzer said at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos that traditional ideas about privacy were no longer feasible and that, sooner or later, more people's DNA would enter the public domain.

Seltzer, a professor in computer science, said that devices and applications capable of collecting, analysing and storing data are already development and more intrusions into private information would virtually eliminate personal privacy.

While popular applications such as Facebook can read your contact list, calendar and GPS location, it can also bypass the phone's built-in dialler and read SMSes. This permission is also present in Google Maps.

Popular game Dumb Ways to Die is able to access the phone's Wi-Fi state, internet and record audio. While some permissions are necessary for application functionality, Taylor questioned the need for some apps to have access to data that went beyond their scope.

Watch how David Taylor explains why he doesn't trust wearable smart devices:


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