The rapidly expanding wearable device market raises serious privacy concerns, as some device makers collect a massive amount of personal data and share it with other companies, according to a new study.
Existing health privacy laws don’t generally apply to wearable makers, the study says. While consumers are embracing fitness trackers, smart watches, and smart clothing, a “weak and fragmented” health privacy regulatory system in the U.S. fails to give consumers the privacy protections they may expect, said the study, released Thursday by the Center for Digital Democracy and the School of Communication at American University.
“Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior,” the study says.
As consumers buy more smart wearables and the devices’ functionality becomes increasingly sophisticated, “the extent and nature of data collection will be unprecedented,” the study adds.
“Americans now face a growing loss of their most sensitive information, as their health data are collected and analyzed on a continuous basis, combined with information about their finances, ethnicity, location, and online and off-line behaviors,” said Jeff Chester, CDD’s executive director and co-author of the report. “Policy makers must act decisively to protect consumers in today’s big data era.”
In the U.S., privacy law is piecemeal, with separate laws for different types of information, such as financial, student, or health data, the study notes. U.S. privacy laws governing health information are “limited and fragmented, with significant gaps in coverage,” the study says. “The degree to which users of wearable devices will be able to make informed privacy decisions …