Wearables: Your New BFF?

It seems as if anything can and might be turned into a wearable. Google Glass is just the beginning.

How about smart ear plugs that play your favorite music, alert you to upcoming concerts and buy the tickets for you? Google is experimenting with contact lenses that measure glucose levels. Other ideas include smart fabrics that interact with the environment and your body to share information and alerts. Or how about a wristband that senses when you’ve fallen asleep and automatically starts recording the television show being watched?

As the hype about wearables continues at a fevered pitch, consumer privacy concerns are creeping (no pun intended) into conversations. In some ways, it’s the age-old question of how much information are people willing to part with in exchange for a chance to live healthier, happier lives. While wearables now comprise a niche market of early adopters, forecasts see that changing soon. And that’s when things start getting really interesting.

Panelists on a recent SAP’s Coffee Break with Game-Changers Radio broadcast entitled, “ IoT and Wearables: Give and Take,” talked about what’s in store for people and industries as we strap data collection devices onto our bodies, homes, cars, sports equipment, and more.

The Magic of Context

According to Ronan ‘Zero’ Schwarz, SQRL Solutions, the importance of context cannot be overstated. “Context is what defines the reality in which we operate. It gives meaning to the things we see and the data that comes with it. Having contextual awareness in applications and devices gives them a chance to understand our lives much better. Mixing a lot of different data sources together can help us do simple, smart things.”

BFF or Betrayer of Secrets?

Given all that contextual information, Susan Rafizadeh, Global Content lead for Life Sciences at SAP, thinks wearables could be everyone’s next BFF: “If wearables do all these things for you, you might build such a close relationship as if it’s a friend, especially if they look good.”

But as pervasive data collection grows, so do privacy concerns. Consider medical monitoring wearables. Patient readings triggering automatic alerts to change medication or schedule a doctor’s appointment are health care improvements. However, sharing information with device manufacturers tracking information in the cloud raises privacy concerns.

“People are willing to give up little bits of privacy for convenience. If your phone tells you how much you’ve walked it’s nice to have that statistic. But if your personal [medical] data is posted to Facebook that’s not so cool anymore,” said Schwarz.

Industry Transformation

As consumer technology companies enter the health and fitness arena, Rafizadeh predicted more collaboration between industries including acquisitions and partnerships. “Consumer products companies know more about consumer marketing, and medical device companies know more about the regulations and science behind it so they will get together.”

Unraveling the Personal Data Risk

For widespread uptake, the fledgling wearables industry is going to need consumer control along with company trust.

“People need to know what’s being shared, who can see the information and who can’t,” said Ira Berk, Vice President, Solutions Go to Market at SAP. “If we get better at putting some boundaries around privacy and sharing, it’s going to be easier for people to innovate and take advantage of the information that’s there, and to create all these new products and services.”

Schwarz added that software developers have a responsibility to address security, designing features that respect people’s tolerance for sharing across platforms.

What to Expect by 2020 and Beyond

While smartphones currently proliferate as the hub of activity for most people, these experts predict its decline over the next five to 10 years in favor of wearables. “Whether it’s picking up gestures or transmitting feelings, wearables will give us better connections, and new ways to interact with what’s around us,” said Berk.

Internet users are already trading off privacy for convenience, but wearables represent an exponential increase in sharing huge amounts of extremely personal data on a minute-by-minute basis. Yet when devices know where someone is and can trigger actions in that moment, the opportunities are endless.

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