What to Know About Wearable Tech and Privacy

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Wearable tech gives a whole new meaning to airing your dirty laundry. Getting dressed in the morning goes beyond merely self-expression – your wardrobe is being swallowed by the internet of things. And the hybridization of tech and clothing raises new questions of privacy and threats of external, third party surveillance.


What is Wearable Tech?

The budding wearable technology industry includes known products like activity trackers, wearable cameras, smart watches, and smart glasses. But there are more inventive devices in development or hitting the market, including in healthcare, entertainment and the high-end fashion industries. Some examples include:

  • Programmable t-shirts: This new technology introduces the very first programmable LED T-Shirt. Users can experience live, real-time connections using an iPhone and innovative technology built into the T-Shirt. You can visualise and send photos, Tweets, messages, animation, and much more.
  • GPS pet collars: Now you can always know where your pet is with these GPS pet collars manufactured by several different companies. This is a radar-style honing device that utilises your phone in locating your pet. It works within a 200-foot radius showing a map with the last known location. Program a virtual leash so you can receive notifications when your pet gets too far from home. Expect this technology to soon be widely available for children.
  • Cycling jackets: The Lumenus is a revolutionary LED-equipped jacket that interfaces with Google Maps using your phone. It offers turn-signal suggestions for your route, as well as better visibility, brake signals and automatic turn indicators. Only now in the prototype phase, Lumenus products have caught the eye of many big corporations.
  • Baby onesies: A new company called Krzanich has created an instrumented baby onesie designed to sense and transmit your baby’s metrics like respiration, temperature, and dampness.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) full body suits: Rokoko Electronics out of Copenhagen has recently launched its full body motion capture suit called Salto. They are referring to this new technology as “animotion” and it brings animated characters to life so that they can fully interact with an audience. Imagine your child being able to speak to and interact with their favourite cartoon characters.
  • Self-healing skin sensors: The Israel Institute of Technology has developed intriguing new flexible electronic sensors (chemiresistors) designed to heal damaged skin. In the future, they believe it can be used to create artificial skin and they’re targeting the prosthetic limbs industry. High-conductivity electrodes and gold nanoparticles produce restoration in cuts or cracks that would break the flow of electricity. Imagine being able to place a “bandage” that proactively causes healing.


How Big Is the Industry?

In 2015 alone, the wearable tech industry exceeded $20 billion and experts believe that by 2025, the industry will grow to $70 billion. PWC estimates that 20 percent of Americans already own a wearable device; the rate is likely similar in Canada. OCAD University in Toronto has already established a wearable tech minor degree program.


Technology firms like Apple, LG, Canon, Nokia, Fujitsu and Samsung were expectedly early out of the gate, but their wearables tend to be more tech-focused than fashion-focused. But traditional performance clothing retailers like Adidas, Reebok, and Nike are catching up, and even expanding product lines to compete in the healthcare application space.


Wearable devices usually have one or more sensors that are embedded into items such as shirts, wrist bands, eye glasses, contact lenses, jewellery, shoes and many others. These wearables work to provide the user with unique data such as your heartrate, number of steps taken, ECG, blood pressure, brainwave measurements, and much more.


Given the connection between fitness and wellness, it’s easy to imagine health care providers monitoring heart rate and other bodily functions through technology embedded in all kinds of fitness wear from baseball caps to ankle weights. This has left many feeling that the risks are worth the rewards.


So what are the risks?

“Electronic pick-pocketing” is a major concern. You can be strolling down the streets of Montreal searching for a great restaurant, when someone accidentally bumps into you. In just a few moments’ time, they can steal all your credit card info. This high-tech theft device works on cards with a radio frequency ID computer chip embedded inside. It is also know as Near Field Communication (NFC). There are currently over 300 million of these types of cards distributed to users worldwide. Though they make it very easy to pay for a purchase, they’re also wide open to digital theft.


Privacy issues – and related legal ones – are also front and centre. Here are some privacy and legal concerns around wearable tech:

  • Personal medical information has always been highly protected by Canadian law, but now with wearable healthcare devices, it’s still too easy for hackers to obtain sensitive data that could be used in a wide variety of ways. New ingestible digital pills are essentially sensors inside the human body and require the patient to transmit significant amounts of private, bodily
  • Consider for a moment the amount of physical data movement-based video game consoles like Kinect or Wii collect about users. It’s feasible such data will soon be able to monitor health and potentially identify degenerative conditions. Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has already flagged privacy issues that arise from internet-connecting gaming consoles.
  • Court cases and union complaints are arising to defend an employee’s right to audio and video record their workdays, made easier through Google Glass and similar technologies. Employers are understandably unenthusiastic about this application of wearable technology.
  • The Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s office recently presented at a Mars meetup to discuss the privacy and legal issues surrounding wearable technology. The office has also prepared an official report on the topic, which confirms, “The Federal Court has ruled that information will be about an identifiable individual where there is a serious possibility that an individual could be identified through the use of that information, alone or in combination with other available information. The [Ontario Privacy Commissioner] has also made the case that powerful insights about an individual can be gleaned from subscriber information and this analysis provides some important points to reflect upon in considering the wearable environment.”

What’s the Bottom Line?

With the whole industry in a state of evolution, it’s no wonder people are confused about the legal, ethical and privacy issues. Sure, it’s fun to photograph your whole group diving out of an airplane, but what if some of those being filmed don’t want to be featured in your YouTube video? It’s not only an invasion of privacy, but privacy breaches potentially open the door for unlawful activity.


As a forward-thinking law firm, Du Plooy promotes collaboration and works to maintain its role as an innovator in the Calgary business law community. Du Plooy Law will continue to provide you with updates on this exciting, but complex technology. Please call us to discuss wearable tech and privacy further.


About these authors: Claudius du Plooy has over 15 years of experience in matters of business law, securities law, entertainment law and international trade law. Denise Brunsdon is a Student-at-Law at Du Plooy Law with an interest in IP, digital and privacy law.