When most of us think about protecting our privacy, we worry about shadowy agencies like the NSA or CIA watching our e-mails or social media posts. But while we may rightly worry about government intrusions into our privacy, we overlook how corporations can get access to data we place online. If we do ever bother to think about those corporations, our suspicion is drawn towards tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
But every company, especially the business you work for, can pose a potential threat to your privacy. Perhaps the most concerning threat to our privacy comes from the increasing distribution of wearables in the workplace. Employees need to understand why this is a problem before readily accepting a company distributed wearable and whether it is a good idea.
Wearable devices: Not just for people anymore
Wearable devices like Fitbit and smartwatches have grown more popular, and the wearable tech market could reach 411 million devices sold worth $34 billion in 2020. At the same time, corporations have begun promoting and distributing wearable devices and Fitbits to their employers. As Bloomberg notes, BP distributed more than 24,500 fitness trackers in 2015 to their workers, and “around 2,000 companies worldwide offered their staff fitness trackers in 2013, rising to 10,000 in 2014.”
There are multiple reasons for why these companies are handing out wearable devices to their workers, but a very common one is for health and safety. Companies want healthy and productive workers, especially if the company is providing health insurance. If a Fitbit can encourage exercise and other healthy activities, that means a lower insurance premium for the company.
But there are other reasons for this interest in wearables as well. As Propelics notes, auto insurance companies are providing devices which customers install in their vehicles so that the insurance companies can tell who is driving safely and thus deserves lower rates. There are also wearables that can monitor an employee’s environments, note immediate safety concerns, or even microchips that can function as a replacement for traditional ID cards.
The result is that companies are moving towards providing wearables, and employees are easily accepting them as they can give the employee new information about themselves and their surrounding as well. But employees are too cavalier about the privacy implications of using corporate-provided wearables.
Protecting against company monitoring and hackers
The first thing which those using company-provided wearables need to remember is that they are providing personal data to the company. The idea of the company monitoring things such as your heartbeat and location inside the workplace should be irritating, but wearables would also be monitoring what you do outside as well. The Independent warns that this creates a scenario where workers are treated not as human beings with rights, but like a dog which is groomed to perfection to serve his master at all time. If you are not working, then you should be exercising so your work will be better.
There are also practical problems with corporate wearables, mostly relating to privacy. The first problem is that corporations could send or resell that personal data to other corporations. Think about the ongoing obsession about “big data” in the corporate world, and remember that any data a corporation collects is about or related to people. Even if legislation is passed to limit data sharing, the lack of societal understanding about how easy and commonplace it is will limit its effectiveness.
And the more places your personal data is stored, the more likely that your data will be uncovered by hackers. Even personal information as mundane as your pulse or sleep patterns is of great value to hackers, who can use such information to potentially steal your identity. A new smart memory foam mattress can store intimate information, including when you’re likely to be home or when you’ll be away. This is just as much a threat for corporations as well, as hackers could also obtain operational data about the corporation which would be on users’ wearables.
Monitoring corporations and the government
What do these threats mean for the average citizen and how can we lessen the risks? Consumer advocacy groups and governments can help protect privacy rights and restrict what corporations can do with the data they have collected and place regulations on safeguarding said data. But laws like that will take time to pass and have their limits.
Fortunately, there are actions on the individual level which you can take now. The simplest answer is to realize that you may be better off going without company provided wearables. If you truly value the benefits which come with such devices, then find out what measures the company is taking to protect your privacy both from outside hackers and from internal company abuse.
The Internet and smartphones have already made it clear that citizens need to worry about protecting their personal data from corporations and the government, and this is no different with wearables. We all need to make sure that wearables do not compromise our personal information, and this may mean refusing to use wearables provided by our workplace.
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