First it was the personal computer, then notebook computer, then smartphones, and tablets. What’s the next big thing in mobile technology? It may well be wearable technology, most notably smart glasses, smart watches, and fitness bands. Deloitte predicts that in 2014, more than 10 million units of wearables will be sold, totaling about $3 billion in sales. Analysts further estimate that wearables will eventually be able to handle two-thirds of what we currently do on smartphones.
Of course, wearable technology is just emerging, but if it catches on as quickly as smartphones, tablets and other performance-enhancing technology, it won’t be long before we see a new fashion trend in the workplace. Now is a good time to prepare for that eventuality.
Just as personal mobile devices have challenged organizations, so will wearable data devices (WDDs). Forbes reported earlier this summer that insurance giant USAA had prohibited WDDs in the workplace at least until it had fully researched the potential advantages and disadvantages of the new technology. Some of the concerns USAA had are:
- Employees inadvertently recording inappropriate audio in the workplace
- Employees capturing sensitive images in the workplace
- Potential safety hazards while driving or even walking on company property
- Infringement on employee privacy
Forbes’s Jeanne Meister offered the following advice to companies forming their policies on wearable devices: Remember what happened when companies tried implementing social media policies banning the use of Facebook and YouTube on desktops? Employees accessed the sites anyway on their smartphones, which affected their on-the-job productivity. The same could easily happen with wearables.
“Smart employers will put policies in place now to manage the integration of WDDs into the workplace and adjust them as needs dictate,” said Mintz Levin attorney Jonathan Cain in a recent privacy and security advisory. “Less prepared employers will be deeply exposed to liability for data breaches, privacy and workplace discrimination complaints, and other disruptions as they try to catch up.”
He added that human resources and IT policies should address at least the following concerns:
- Detection: WDDs may not be readily detectable, unlike smartphones and tablets. Therefore, “[w]orkplace policies should set out the circumstances under which various categories of devices may be used, and what notice is required to co-workers and customers when they are brought into the workplace.”
- Security: Most WDDs will have wireless capability, which could challenge the security of corporate data. Policies need to clarify where and under what circumstances that wireless capability may be used.
- Privacy: Co-workers’ and customers’ reasonable privacy expectations may be challenged when employees are allowed to use WDDs to record their interactions. The employee’s privacy expectation for the data collected by the WDDs may also be inconsistent with the employer’s views about its right to monitor and record data broadcast within its workspaces.
- Productivity: As with smartphones, balancing the use of smartphones to access personal e-mail or web browsing with productivity will likely become even more challenging with WDDs. It may be necessary to modify workplace policies to address the use of company resources and company time with the “pursuit of personal interests using WDDs.”
- Support: As more WDDs are brought into the workplace, demands on IT to support those devices will increase. “Employers need to consider whether and how they will integrate these new classes of devices into their IT environments.”
- Liability: “Policies should address the circumstances under which interactions with third parties may be recorded. Employers also should consider how they are going to limit their employees’ expectations that data transmitted from a WDD over a company network will remain private.”