Invasion of Wearable Technology in the Workplace

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By Cheryl Lee

Wearable Technology is one of the hottest new technology areas today. Apple Watch, Google Glass, as well as health monitoring devices like FitBit, may be some of the most well known examples of wearable technology. However, there are many others in development. Future wearable technology even includes jewelry such as smart earrings that can monitor one’s heart rate as well as energy burned and   allows the user to sync wirelessly with a smartphone or a PC. Morgan Stanley estimated the potential market size for wearable technology at $1.6 trillion and noted that wearable devices will become the fastest consumer technology devices. IDC Worldwide Wearable Computing Device 2014-2018 Forecast and Analysis predicts that by 2018, wearable technology will account for 10% of the global electronics market. There is even a Wearable Technologies Conference in Milan, Italy, the fashion capital of the world, with a focus on bringing together the world of fashion and the world of technology.

Wearable technology refers to electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into items of clothing and accessories, which can be worn on the body or attached to clothes. These wearable technologies, like Google Glass and Apple Watch, perform many of the same computing tasks as mobile phones and laptop computers. As the invasion of the latest wearable technologies continues to pervade our everyday lives and workplace, it creates issues for the workplace and the employers. Someone wearing Google Glass or an Apple Watch can take photos and videos of documents, which might potentially infringe upon someone else’s proprietary rights. These confidential documents can be uploaded directly to a personal account in the Cloud and then deleted from the wearable device. The risk of inadvertent disclosure of an employer’s trade secret is significant; it could result in millions of dollars in licensing revenue losses or loss of a competitive advantage. Despite such risks, the employer’s policy to regulate the usage and restrictions in the workplace may be quite challenging.

Employers have the option of adopting policies for these devices or even prohibiting them in the workplace. But, outright bans in the work place may be neither pragmatic nor legal. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently found Boeing in violation of U.S. Labor laws over the company’s ban on employee use of smartphones at work without a special permit. Usage of Google Glass as an aid for the visually impaired will further challenge the workplace policies for wearable technology. Various mobile applications for Google Glass as an aid for visually impaired people will soon be on the market. Some will allow users who have vision impairment to receive audio descriptions of objects in front of them. Applications like Third Eye operate on real-time by taking photo of the objects in front of the Google Glass worn by the visually impaired and provide audio identification. This raises security issues with proprietary documents or off-limit areas being photographed and it could also raise privacy rights of those being automatically photographed in the workplace. Even if employers ban the use of wearable technology, policies will most likely need to address exceptions for technology that help those with visual difficulties.

Although wearable technology usage is currently being embraced by early adopters, it will only be a matter of a few years before wearable technology makes up 10% of the global electronics market. Now is the time for employers to think thoughtfully and proactively about updating workplace policies to address the potential issues from the adoption of wearable technology.

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