Technology’s influence on our lives seems to increase more each year. One recent development is the idea of wearable technology that could help prevent accidents. Fewer accidents and fewer serious injuries or deaths is a great thing. But are there privacy concerns with such a technology?
Earlier in 2016, AIG invested in a company that seeks to produce wearable technology. The company producing the technology is called Human Condition Safety (HCS). The technology would be worn on or under clothing. It could hopefully track the movements of the user and provide some warning of incidents where injury or death might occur.
Many of us already use some form of wearable technology. I wear a Jawbone UP which tracks my heart rate, sleep, and the number of steps I take per day. Many of us use some version of these fitness trackers. There are watches which have even more features than the fitness trackers. Google developed the Google Glass which is a computer that can be worn on your glasses.
Why do wearable devices cause privacy concerns?
I am by no means a technology expert. But I do realize that every measurement taken by these devices that is available to our employers means that we have a little less privacy. A device might measure your heart rate and blood pressure on the job to make sure that you are not at risk for a stroke or heart attack.
In tracking how you do things, your employer can certainly make judgments about how good of an employee you are. Do you lift correctly? Do you work efficiently compared to other employees?
UPS already employs a form of “wearable technology” in its trucks. They have been monitoring how their drivers drive with computers for over two years. Computers on board UPS trucks tell UPS how fast the drivers drive and how many times they back up, among other things.
Companies want to operate efficiently because they saved money. But the most “efficient” operation of a company may mean that the people working for them become more like machines. Is that what we ultimately want to be? Is our employment simply about how much we can produce and how quickly? As companies have the ability to measure more and more of what employees do, we have less and less privacy.
How can we address privacy concerns?
We can address these privacy concerns. We can address them through legislation and regulation. On a national or state level, we can pass laws that limit what companies can and cannot do. We already have laws limiting what questions companies can ask during job interviews. We have laws that prevent a company from using certain factors (race, sex, religion, etc.) in making employment decisions.
People can also address their privacy concerns through collective bargaining. Unions negotiate contracts with companies that set rules on what the company can and cannot do. In the UPS example mentioned earlier, the type of data that can be collected and for what it can be used is already an item of negotiation between UPS and the union that represents the UPS drivers.
Technological improvements show no sign of slowing down. Companies will continue to use technology to improve their efficiency and their bottom lines. Because of that, we are all going to have to make decisions about what information is open to our employers and what information should be kept private.