Jun 032014

Most of the news regarding privacy and wearable computers and camera-equipped devices like Google Glass has focused on the rights of individuals when it comes to being recorded in public places or commercial establishments like bars and restaurants. But if it hasn’t occurred already, likely sooner than later, customers or employees are going to show up at your business or agency wearing such devices. Therefore, it is not too early for organizations to start developing policies defining how they are going to deal with wearable devices in order to prevent possible theft of intellectual property or the leaking of proprietary and sensitive (or embarrassing) information.

==== Not as Easy as It Sounds ====

The gut reaction is for companies to ban outright the use of such devices by customers and employees on the premises. Some governments already have responded by passing legislation making such recording activities a crime. Some US states have enacted laws making it illegal to secretly record farming, livestock, food production, and other facilities. I expect, however, that many of these hastily implemented laws will eventually be shot down as unconstitutional by the courts.

The trouble is, the new wearable devices can be quite difficult to detect. For instance, a local high school student showed me a camera that looks just like a necklace and can snap and upload a picture every five seconds or record video. He is using it for an art project in which he records (nearly) every action and event in his day.

Imagine the problems that could arise if a customer, employee, or some outside service person wore such a device into a business. Although it might possibly constitute a crime to carry out such surveillance, if the person isn’t caught in the act, files bearing sensitive or embarrassing information could possibly up on YouTube, and it would be too late to change the outcome.

This issue is only going to become more complicated for organizations. Products equipped with cameras, sensors, and other recording capabilities are going to get smaller and increasingly less conspicuous. As an example, Google already has deals in the works with traditional eyeglass companies to implement Glass capabilities into their sunglasses and other eyewear products.

Moreover, the legitimate use by employees of wearable devices intended to help them better perform their job functions is just getting underway and is expected to advance in the near future. In fact, we are already seeing companies experiment with Google Glass apps designed to assist personnel in carrying out inventory operations, equipment troubleshooting, and repairs in the field, as well as other activities requiring workers to have easy, hands-free access to detailed information or instructional videos. Think of technicians up on a roof or on a ship’s superstructure or some other facility while repairing communications, solar electric grids, oil production, or other equipment. (In addition to being able to view videos providing detailed maintenance instructions, technicians can also use Glass to snap a picture of a component and transmit it to colleagues to collaborate on repairs.) Because of this developing trend, it is recommended that companies refrain from implementing blanket policies prohibiting the outright use of wearable devices in order to avoid missing out on the benefits that such technology can offer when applied appropriately.

Friends and colleagues I’ve discussed the wearable technology issue with say that the companies they work for are now starting to consider updating their policies to deal with such devices. A good place to start is by examining company BYOD policies covering the use of cell phones in the organization and modifying them to take into account the covert nature of wearable devices. The goal should be to define rules stating acceptable and unacceptable uses of wearable devices without stifling possible innovation; however, the overriding focus should be on protecting intellectual property and proprietary information. This should cover policies geared toward the customer as well as employees, including how they are to be held accountable — in order to avoid any HR and workplace confusion that could result from a lack of clearly defined rules and procedures for dealing with incidents involving wearable devices.


Curt Hall

Curt Hall is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Data Insight & Social BI and Business & Enterprise Architecture practices. His expertise includes BI, data warehousing, data mining, and other analytical technologies and products.


  2 Responses to “Wearable Devices in the Workplace”

  1. These recording devices are the next step towards innovating technology. I agree with you that in many situation these devices can cause a lot of problems when used inappropriately. But as you said during certain circumstances these can be an aid for people. So it would definitely be an ignorant decision for business’s to blanket ban these devices as the benefits can out way the disadvantages.

    • Thanks for your response. I completely agree with you. I’m a big fan of these devices, and I think they are going to have a huge impact on decision support in a number of domains, raning from the manufacturing shop floor to remote workers repairing equipment, etc., in the field. -Curt.

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