How wearable tech will fuel the Internet of things

Google Glasses, other wearable tech will yield wealth of valuable real-time data, but companies must protect users' privacy

Wearable technologies like Google Glasses, the Nike+ FuelBand, and Autographer are still in their infancy, but they've managed to pique the interest of organizations and users alike. A new study from Rackspace titled "The Human Cloud: Wearable Technology from Novelty to Productivity" reports that 18 percent of the population in the United States and United Kingdom are using wearable technology, and the majority of those users (82 percent of Americans and 71 percent of Brits) say these devices are making their lives better.

Beyond providing users with real-time data about their health or an augmented view of the world, wearable technologies will form an integral part of the "Internet of things," the logical evolution of the cloud and big data. The idea is to enable sensor-equipped "things" to communicate with one another in meaningful, actionable ways. For that to happen, though, companies need to take care not to scare off would-be users by failing to address their privacy concerns.

"The rich data created by wearable tech will drive the rise of the 'human cloud' of personal data," said Chris Brauer, co‐director of CAST at Goldsmiths, University of London. "With this comes countless opportunities to tap into this data; whether it's connecting with third parties to provide more tailored and personalized services or working closer with health care institutions to get a better understanding of their patients."

Brauer predicted that the public sector will also embrace wearable technology to manage and oversee public health and smart city programs.

Companies and government agencies are certainly interested in the potential of wearable technology and its impact on the Internet of things -- but users also realize those benefits, according to the report. The study found that 47 percent of wearable technology users felt more intelligent; 61 percent felt more informed; 37 percent said wearables helped their career advancement; and 61 percent claimed that their personal efficiency improved.

One of the most significant barriers to broad adoption of wearable technology is privacy concerns. According to Rackspace's report, 51 percent of Americans and Brits have those concerns. Almost two-thirds said that Google Glass and other wearable devices should be regulated in some form, and another 20 percent opined that such devices should be outright banned.

"Wearable technologies face the same challenges as any other new product that represents a change in consumer activities, albeit that in the digital age the challenges can seem more daunting, said Jack Higgins, a digital media lawyer at Sheridans in London. "On the one hand, some wearable technologies do not represent any privacy or any other rights issues as they interact solely with the user. On the other hand, when wearable technologies interact with other people and the environment around the user, then potential privacy or copyright issues can arise, although it's important to remember that these issues already exist, but the new technology typically makes it easier to happen."

What remains to be seen is, will how much responsibility will manufacturers take in educating users about the privacy risks associated with wearables, and how much the government will have to step in with regulations to curb the misuse of the technology.

Interestingly, 19 percent of Brits and 22 percent of Americans surveyed said that they would be willing to use a wearable devices that monitors location for central government activity, and one in three respondents said they would be willing to use a wearable health and fitness monitor that shares personal data with the NHS or health care provider.

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