Fears around data protection are widespread, well founded, and now firmly in the public consciousness. Such is the paranoia around what people are doing with our data that the entire evil plan of the villain in the new James Bond film - and the three before it in which the antagonists worked for his organization - is to collect everyone’s data. And that’s it. He’s just collecting everyone’s data. That might sound more sinister when you think about it, but watching his scheme unravel in real time is like watching a tortoise age.
Wearable devices such as Fitbit now offer advanced health monitoring that lets you know exactly how your body is performing, generating significant amounts of data that can help discover if you are getting unwell almost instantly. Powerful sensors monitor a variety of metrics, including your sleep patterns, blood pressure, and your movement, all of which you and your doctor can use when it comes to identifying any potential health problems.
However, while it may seem like this data could only exist to serve the higher purpose of ensuring you live a long and healthy life, there is also ample opportunity for third parties to abuse the data for more nefarious purposes.
Health insurance companies, for example, could begin to insist on access to your wearable data before setting your premiums. Every minor perceived health infraction - every beer, every cigarette, every sip of ice cold orange Fanta you take as you walk through the park on a hot summer day, birds tweeting in the trees and children laughing merrily on the swings - could be noted down by the health insurance Gestapo and used to force you to pay more. This kind of monitoring may sound benevolent, but health insurers do not exactly have a good track record when it comes to honesty and best practice.
It could also be demanded by your employers, as it is for companies like BP. The insights that could potentially be elicited from things like your sleeping patterns and heart rate could be extremely personal. The idea of people in your firm sitting in an office guessing how many times a week you engage in sexual activity is not especially desirable to most.
It is not just a case of companies making supposedly legitimate demands on your data either. The wealth of information stored in wearable devices could also easily be used by hackers. Fitness bands can clearly indicate the location of your house as well as the route you take home from work, allowing stalkers and those looking to rob your house potential access to this knowledge.
There are many benefits of wearable devices, and certain parties having access to the data is potentially lifesaving. This is, however, limited to your doctor and people you choose to have access to it. For someone with an elderly relative it provides peace of mind, for a doctor it is a tool that can help you with an illness. For everyone else, it should be treated in the same way that health records are.