Wearables have been in the news a lot lately – notably where the line should be drawn between employers keeping an eye on the health and wellbeing of those they employ, and where that crosses into breach of privacy.
Company fitness trackers, incentives and even competitions are all in common use to promote a leaner, stronger workforce – and inevitably this produces data about our habits outside, as well as inside, work.
As this article points out, its is in no-one’s interests to have overworked, stressed and anxious employees – particularly if they don’t spot this in themselves. So, carried out in a climate of trust and accountability, tracking health, for example, can be helpful for both parties.
But however well-intentioned, does that give companies the right to track health data generally in a bid to optimise performance, to see how employees react to stressful situations before choosing who makes important presentations, for example, or to detect some health conditions before they become serious?
The advent of the web and messaging platforms has already led to an ‘always on’ culture where many find it trickier to maintain a good work/life balance. In the same vein, should employers really be able to track their employees 24/7, including out of office hours, even if it’s supposedly for their own good? Most would stay not.
Not only are there concerns over privacy – employees who are pregnant, for example, may not want to share this before the traditional 12-week scan that confirms all is well – but wearables may pick up on changes well before this. And of course there are concerns over data accuracy – nobody wants to be judged on something that is ultimately wrong, but this could be hard to prove or overturn.
AS the WSJ article points out: “There are serious questions about the accuracy of many of the apps that power these devices. Making decisions about people based on their private information is bad enough. Worse would be making decisions based on private health data that was wrong.”
Dr Deborah Peel, of Patient Privacy Rights, writing ahead of their annual summit on June 7th which digi.me is sponsoring, is clear that consent is crucial.
She said: “As technology moves faster and faster, we need to stop and ask questions.
A requirement to use, and share information from, data trackers is also likely to undermind employee morale, if they feel they are not trusted to be truthful about their fitness for work.
Data-sharing agreements can be put in place, but the employee may still feel under pressure to reveal more than they are confortable with to justify their continued employment, so there would likely be a need for even more policies around coercion.
All in all, while they can clearly have benefits for both parties, employers need to tread carefully when considering a wearables policy – and get consent at every step of the way.