Wearable Technology Raises Privacy Concerns

As technologies like Google Glass and smart watches make their way into workplace environments, this creates new privacy concerns for employers. According to lawyer Sue McLean at Morrison and Foerster, the intrusive nature of these devices may be used by employees to take clandestine photos or videos. She commented, “There are huge privacy and ethical implications around wearable technology.” It’s likely that these new gadgets will create more complicated issues for employers over the next few years, as developers find new uses, both in the workplace and at home.

According to research done by Gartner, the market for wearable technology is set to increase from $1,6 billion to $5 billion. Of course, as its use becomes more commonplace, employers will need to put policies in place regarding how their staff should use the technology.

For instance, what are the privacy issues if a person wearing Google Glass should record a meeting with other employees? Or what if an employee in a disciplinary action uses a wearable device to record the meeting and then use the recording in legal proceedings? McLean said, “Companies have to be very clear on how and why employees use wearable technology, make sure they are clear what the rules are, and that they have taken adequate precautions to comply with privacy regulations and the law.”

On a positive note, research has demonstrated that employees using wearable technology are more productive if they are aware they are being monitored. The technology is riddled with potential privacy and data protection concerns that must be addressed by employers and trade unions. For instance, while it is legitimate for a fire fighter to wear Google Glass to look at a floor plan for navigation purposes, it may not be appropriate for shop clerks to use the same technology.

Companies may be required to restrict or ban the use of wearable technology where companies have access to valuable intellectual property. Call centers may not want to use Google Glass, as staff would have access to customer records containing personal details on their clients. The technology could also raise new data protection problems, should companies use it to display sensitive data on their customers.

Back in February, Virgin Atlantic announced its plans to give staff at Heathrow airport Google Glass, so that they can keep first class passengers up to date on flight information, weather and local events at their destination. These devices would be able to alert staff to important passengers by flashing their names, frequent flyer status and flight numbers. The airline would then have to ensure that sensitive data is adequately secured, so that it can’t be accidentally leaked or exposed to hacking risks.

An overreaction?

Incidents in the US have suggested that people may be overreacting to the new technology. In January of this year, Homeland Security removed a man from a movie theater and questioned him for several hours regarding potential copyright infringement, after he was spotted wearing Google Glass.

The man said that he had only been wearing the device because it was fitted with his prescription lenses, and was finally able to prove his innocence when he convinced officials to connect his Glass to a PC to have a look at its contents.

In another situation, a woman was accused of distracted driving after she was found to be wearing Google Glass, while being pulled over for speeding. The charges were later dropped, as there was no evidence she had been distracted, or even had turned on the device.

This might be growing pains, as we keep up with the technologies that are so quickly being developed. After all, mobile phone cameras caused a similar situation when they were first introduced, with many organizations banning smart phone use. Of course, we’ve outgrown that phase, as people quickly realized you can’t ban all mobile phones.


This article introduces the privacy and data protection issues raised by wearable technology, such as Google Glass as smart watches.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Data collection (I.C.)
  • Privacy expectations (II.A.)

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