This week saw the launch of the Apple Watch, one more product in a growing number of “smart” sensor rich devices that promise to make life easier and better by monitoring user behaviour. Will the Apple Watch be a game changer among these devices? Technologically, the only really new sensor included in the watch that wasn’t already in smart phones appears to be the LED based heart rate sensor, which for some reason is receiving relatively little attention in the popular tech magazines. The Apple marketing machine, however, may prove to be a game changer in terms of popularity of such devices. What might the consequences be if wearable, sensorized, tech truly does become the next big consumer trend?
From the perspective of CaSMa, we are primarily concerned with potential consequences relating to data ethics, the digital rights of citizens and the balance of trust/power between service users and service providers (data controllers). We are therefore mostly interested in questions like: How will the data from such devices be managed? Who will have control over the capture, transmission and processing of data from wearable devices? How will the rights to privacy be protected, not only for the wearer of such devices but also for people in their surroundings?
The real reason for using a cloud service, and thus requiring the transmitting of data, is likely to be less technical and more a choice of business model. The question is, does this business model involve data mining of the voice information for further analysis of their customer behaviour? If it is not done now, is this considered as a possible future option?
So what does this tell us about the ethical, privacy and digital rights issues we can expect with the introduction of the Apple Watch and the increasingly pervasive nature of smart sensors in devices carried by people or in owner environment?
Based on the current trends in these technologies we should probably expect many of them to use cloud services of some sort, with large quantities of privacy sensitive data being transmitted over the internet to server farms at distant locations on the globe. Unless this business model is quickly changed in favour of processing within the sensor device, it may only be a matter of time until highly personal data transmitted by such a device is stolen or abused, resulting in some form of harm to the users.