IoT Nightmare: Wearable Health Gadgets Pose New Kind of Privacy Risks for Users

Due to weak and patchy health-privacy regulatory system, the private data of users is in danger.

With the emergence of wearable gadgets like Smartwatches, researchers are trying to provide smart alternatives of everything including personal health monitoring. Hence, wearable devices like heart rate monitors, stress level calculator, calorie counter and sleep pattern observer devices came into existence. These are quite fun to use as you get instant, HANDS ON information about your heart health, physique and mental health. No wonder, these small gadgets have made life easier for a majority of consumers as these offer an efficient way to manage our health.

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However, new research conducted by the American University and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) researchers, reveals that these wearable health devices pose a number of privacy and security risks. The report titled “Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Consumer Protection” [PDF] was released a couple of days ago. It was noted that fitness bands, watches and smart wearable gadgets that are linked through apps or mobile phones have become an increasingly important part of the “connected health” system in America. However, the problem is that contrary to popular belief, the federal laws do not offer as much protection to securing the information of health wearable devices’ consumers.

It must be noted that COD is the same group who filed a complaint against Internet-connected toys “My Friend Cayla and I-Que” for invading privacy and stealing personal data of users.

The researchers identified that due to weak and patchy health-privacy regulatory system, the private information of users is in danger. The report basically presents a review and evaluation of the features and trends in the latest consumer-wearable and connected health devices market. The report explains that a majority of these devices are already integrated into the ecosystem of Big Data digital health and marketing. The entire focus of this system is upon monetizing personal and health-related information only to “influence consumer behavior.”

The more widespread these devices become, the more sophistication their functionalities will obtain and hence, “the extent and nature of data collection will be unprecedented.”

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A number of questionable digital health marketing practices currently in use are also been documented in the report, which the researchers claim that threaten consumer’s privacy. These practices include “condition targeting,” “look-alike modeling,” predictive analytics, “scoring,” and buying and selling of devices in real-time. The technology used in these wearable health devices is so powerful that these become a handy data collection tool, which can be very useful for marketing purposes. For instance, access to a user’s location is a feature that most smartphones and mobile devices offer. This feature lets marketers target individuals according to their geographic location by analyzing their “visitation patterns,” and similar other demographic and behavioral data.

Furthermore, the report sheds light on the way Big Data practices are being developed to link the distinctive functionalities of wearable devices such as biosensors that can monitor bodily functions or the Haptic Tech that lets users feel their body’s sensations. This means, the biggest beneficiary of wearable gadgets is the pharmaceutical industry.

The report also presents some productive suggestions regarding the way government, philanthropists, non-profit organizations, industry and academic institutions can collaborate to develop a comprehensive strategy to safeguard consumer privacy in the age of Big Data and IoTs (internet of things).

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The recommendations include points such as setting transparent standards for collecting and using data; generating formal procedures for evaluating the pros and cons of data usage and stricter regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing carried out by pharmaceutical firms.

Written by Carolina

Carolina works for HackRead as a technical writer. She is a Brazilian traveller who has been to almost every country around the world. She has a keen interest in technology, gadgets and social media.