Wearable Technology: What Does It Mean for You?

Recent headlines have been replete with data breach stories in the last few years. The number of companies and government agencies that have had their systems hacked is staggering. Names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and other personal information have all been stolen by hackers from companies like Target, J.P. Morgan, Home Depot, and Sony, not to mention government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the United States Army.

What many people do not know is that they may be providing sensitive personal information to data miners on a regular basis through wearable technology. There is currently an explosion of activity in the development and marketing of electronic gadgets that people can wear to provide information on the go or to keep track of things.

Activity trackers are a popular item for the fitness conscious. The Apple Watch and other brands of smart watches are gaining popularity. Google briefly marketed a test version of “Google Glass,” Internet-capable eyeglasses with display technology, but it has since discontinued production. Other companies are still selling similar devices.

Many people buy and use these devices because of what they can do: measure heart rate or calories, provide reminders throughout the day, or provide progress reports on goals. What they may not realize, however, is what these devices can do without their knowledge.

Wearable technology is embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and Internet connectivity; it can therefore transfer data to others. A problem with that, according to Symantec Corporation, a major technology security company, is that one in five wearable devices moves data without encryption. That makes it easy for hackers, or even legitimate data-gathering businesses, to obtain information provided to any particular application.

Security experts say that the lack of security associated with many wearable devices puts people at risk for dangers such as identity theft, profiling, and home burglary or invasion. Most devices have location-tracking capability and can therefore allow the tracking of a person’s movements, enabling someone to know or predict where that person might be at any given time. Personal information such as name, address, and Social Security number can allow false bank transactions. Sleep tracking devices can tell a hacker when a person is asleep or awake in his or her home.

If you decide to buy wearable technology, find out whether the marketer has an accompanying privacy policy. Learn about the security of the device, especially about whether it is Internet-capable and whether it encrypts data. And be cognizant of the personal information that you input when setting up the device.

Technology and the free market moves so fast that consumers cannot assume that security and privacy are assured in the use of wearable technology.

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