Weary of Wearable Technology

Recently, a news story has been circulating about a woman who claims she was attacked by bar patrons because she was using Google Glass.  Depending upon who you believe, the bar patrons were technophobes who hated technology or the woman was invading the bar patrons’ privacy.  More than likely, it was something in between.  This story does illustrate an interesting point about the future of wearables in the workplace, because, make no mistake, wearables will be the next big “must have” gadgets.

For the uninitiated, wearables include smartwatches, Google Glass, fitness monitor or any other accessories that incorporate computer and other advanced technologies.  The wearables field is limited at the moment to only a small number of companies, but it seems like a new company is joining the fray each week.

A Wearable Future

Just like smartphones, wearables will soon be ubiquitous and many people will have more than one.  Some wearable devices, like health monitoring bracelets, likely won’t present too many problems for employers, unless you have an employee who is obsessed with hitting their 10,000 step goal and spends extensive amounts of time striding down the hallways.  Other devices, however, may require some additional thought and attention.

Smartwatches, like those from Samsung or the rumored iWatch, will likely connect with the user’s smartphone and allow them to receive notifications or control functions of their phone without taking the phone out of their pocket.  It would certainly be convenient to see a text message on a watch, rather than having to pull out a phone, but it may also encourage employees to use their phones more on company time.  It is much easier to ignore the phone buzzing in a pocket, but it may be harder when the employee knows the text is from their best friend because it showed up on their smartwatch.

Wearables at Work

Similar to the incident in San Francisco, employees may be uncomfortable if another employee is wearing a device that allows the wearer to take photographs and videos.  Employees may fear that such devices could be used to spy on them, particularly in sensitive areas like the bathroom, or just record embarrassing moments.  In fact, one app will reportedly allow users to take a photo by winking, instead of using an auditory command that would alert the photo subject.  Some smartwatches, like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, also have a camera, which may allow employees to take photographs or video surreptitiously of other employees.

Employers may also be concerned about an employee using a smartwatch or Google Glass-like wearable device to record private meetings or to obtain evidence that could be used against the employer in a future lawsuit.  Such devices would allow potential plaintiffs to gather information that, taken out of context and in small 10 second chunks, could be very damaging to your company.  You wouldn’t ha

A Wearable Security Risk

Wearable devices with cameras may also compromise an employer’s security.  Smartphones, and their accompanying cameras, have made it easier than ever for ne’er-do-wells to copy confidential information or trade secrets for their own gain.  Still, it looks somewhat suspicious when someone has their phone out continuously taking pictures of one document after another.  Now, imagine that an employee could simply appear to be leafing through the confidential customer list or secret formula but instead was using Google Glass to take photos of each page.

Wearables, like smartphones now, have a lot of positive things to offer, particularly in the workplace.  I’m certainly not against wearable devices.  Actually, its the exact opposite, I can’t wait to strap on an Apple iWatch when it is finally released.  I’m looking forward to all the cool and amazing things that it will (hopefully) be able to do.  I just think that employers should be aware of the challenges that are inevitably headed their way.

 What do you think the future of wearable technology will hold? 

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Casey Sipe

Casey is a management-side labor and employment attorney with Caldwell & Kearns in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he writes a labor and employment law blog, The Employer's Lawyer. He loves technology, social media, soccer and bow ties. Connect with Casey.


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