The Legal Implications of Wearables In Sport

How does the 1998 Data Protection Act affect the wearable space?


The impact of wearable technology on sport is something we’ve covered extensively on the Sports Channel. Not only does it have the capacity to affect the highest echelons of world sport, but the lowest levels of it too.

Despite the considerable coverage around the space, the legal implications of it aren’t often discussed at length.

The biggest concern, like all data related issues, is figuring out who actually owns it. At the elite level, small changes to an athlete’s diet or training regime can be the difference between winning a league title and not. If this information got into the wrong hands it could give an opposing team real insight into how a team prepares and executes a game-plan.

There are four stakeholders who could claim rights to the data which comes from wearable devices;

(1) The athlete

(2) The league or competition the player is operating in

(3) The governing body

(4) The tech-company which supplies the wearable tech

As mentioned before, each of these parties could claim ownership of the data, meaning that the debate around it should focus on individual privacy and making sure it’s used in an ethical way.

The 1998 Data Protection Act in the UK refers directly to the issue of privacy within wearable tech. Personal data, which isn’t used for business purposes or processed by an organisation, is not protected by the act.

Data which is, however, does come under its remit, meaning that there is now real onus on clubs and governing bodies to let athletes know how their data is being used and where it’s being stored. Athletes should also make a concerted effort to understand where their data is going so they know before time if their privacy is being compromised.

Clearly, guarding against privacy issues is not a straightforward process, and the scope of the challenge will increase as data collection techniques through wearable tech increases. With 2015 set to be ‘the year of the wearable’ there’s little doubt that new legal challenges will arise. As this happens, it’s likely that sports technology will increasingly become an issue for the courtroom.

Due to this, it’s imperative that every stakeholder involved in the collection process works together to negate the uncertainly around the space’s privacy implications.

Sporting organizations will continue to use wearable technology which better prepares their players for matchplay. The responsibility to protect this data doesn’t just fall at the feet of sports clubs, but all the stakeholders involved in the process.

New legislation is likely, but when it actually comes to fruition remains a different question. 


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