Underneath Your Skin: Wearable Technology and Our Health

By Perri Michael

In 2014, we watched as wearable technology gained interest from millions of consumers worldwide with features that have the ability to keep count of calories burned during the walk to work, monitor blood pressure and even help maximize your workout.

With the new wave of wearable technology consumers have the ability to track different aspects of their health without having to step foot in a doctor’s office. Now in 2015, doctors are hoping to integrate this technology into their practices, and take steps towards using the technology to help chronic medical diseases such as diabetes, emphysema and congestive heart failure.           

With the good that may come from these devices, we must consider the legal issues that may become prevalent once the devices are fully released to the public. Recently, the U.S. leader in the activity tracking market, Fitbit, recalled its activity tracker, the Force Wristband, after consumers complained of skin irritation and allergic reactions due to the nickel in the stainless steel bands. Manufacturing errors such as this will lead to an infinite number of product liability suits against wearable technology producers.

Although skin irritation is a small scale injury, medical experts must use caution if they intend to use these products when treating chronic medical diseases or using them to access critical data while in the operating room.           

Due to the growing “trend” of data breaches, merchants along with the help of in-house and outside counsel, are faced with complex legal issues: data privacy and the liability risks associated with it. The recent accounts of data breaches stem from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Target, Ebay, and most recently, K-mart.

Although these are instances where hackers have access to personal information such as credit card numbers and addresses, the growing popularity of wearable technology gives way for third party access to consumer health records. Consumers should be cautious given the lax privacy policies of these fitness tracker devices. The ambiguous and vague policies that most products have may leave consumer data unprotected and open for public use without their knowledge. In a Varonis article, the authors highlight the issue of how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations have not yet reached this market, leaving unprotected health information legally shareable. See Cindy Ng, 5 Privacy Concerns about Wearable Technology, (March 11, 2014).

Wearable technology may be the latest and greatest fashion trend in 2015 that supports the consumer’s decisions to work toward a healthier lifestyle.  This new technology has the potential to assist doctors during risky procedures and expedite regular check-ups.  Consumers, however, should be weary of the potential product liability and privacy issues that may come to be associated with wearables’ expected billion dollar industry.