While so-called “smart devices”, like car alarms and electronic wristwatches have been available for decades, Internet-connected devices brought a much greater prevalence of smart machines and much higher connectivity between them. The market is growing pretty quickly, in fact, according to Nielsen, more than 15% of consumers use wearable devices, such as fitness bands and smart watches, in their daily lives. Tech companies and fashion brands are breathless over the promise of this technology, but for as much everybody talks about the usefulness of wearable technology, there is a question anyone rarely raises – is it really safe?
Without a doubt, this technology could enhance people’s lives. Wearables encourage people to improve their exercise habits, diets and to stay better organized and informed. However, if a device fails at an inopportune time, a company can lose millions and millions of dollars, a consumer’s privacy can be compromised or even worse – the user’s health could suffer. If companies want to keep their clients happy and decrease their exposure to costly liability claims, and if buyers want to know what are they investing in, they should look more closely some major risks posed by wearable devices.
The Health Concerns
Even though there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable devices, we can at least hypothesize a little from existing studies on cellphone radiation. The most definitive results come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which consisted of over 30 scientists from 14 countries. After reviewing dozens of studies and research papers on cellphone safety, the panel concluded that phones were “probably carcinogenic”, and that some devices might be as harmful as certain chemicals and pesticides.
The panel concluded that the further the device is from your head – the less harmful it is. Therefore, texting and browsing is not nearly as dangerous as making calls, with a phone inches from your brain. This is the main reason why some scientists had serious concerns about Google Glass when it was first announced and why we have been advised to use hands-free devices when talking on phones. While researchers have not been able to determine whether mobile devices are harmful, the studies continue as the number of wearable devices continues to grow.
The Cyber and Bodily Injury Risks
Data breaches are also a big concern for companies across all sectors – and with good reason. A recent Ponemon Institute study showed that the total costs of a security breach range from $500.000 to $61 million. Of course, nearly all breaches lead to proposed class-action lawsuits. The manufacturers of wearable devices can easily be sued if a device played a role in the breach. For example, a patient’s heart monitor automatically uploads large volumes of health data to cloud storage. If the IT department in charge of the cloud fails to apply a security patch correctly, a hacker could easily gain entry, steal and sell all of the patient’s data.
It also goes without saying that some of these devices have to function properly at all times. If a monitoring device that measures heart rate or glucose levels fails to identify the symptoms of a patient, dangerous medical situations may happen. In the past, people had to rely on doctors to observe someone and to give their un-biased opinion, but things are starting to change. Today, a person could simply hire a personal injury attorney, and use wearable device data to assess their claims. According to Forbes, a law firm in Calgary plans on using data from a Fitbit to show the effects of an accident on their client.
The Bottom Line
According to a Business Insider report, global shipping rates for wearable devices will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 24.8% over the next five years, reaching 160 million units by the end of the decade. We will have a whole new world of wearables to explore in the coming years, and the technology will create new opportunities for investors, companies and consumers. While the possibilities of this emerging technology are seemingly limitless, with new opportunities, we will see new risks, and new research is crucial for the future success of the whole industry.