Fears over privacy are nothing new. As users began to see the sheer availability of information online, and the amount of personal data being seen and used by tech companies, they became rightly concerned over how much information would be available to companies and individuals, and how that information would be used. The increasing stream of news about the scope and intensity of government-backed surveillance programs has only added to the paranoia.
As we enter a new era of technology marked by wearable devices like the Apple Watch and Google Glass, those fears — which have been simmering in the minds of consumers for years — may finally begin to boil over.
The Problem With Apps
When it comes to user privacy, there are two kinds of apps to worry about. The first kind is designed to gather information about a user. For example, social media apps go out of their way to draw as much information about their users as possible. This is advantageous for both users and companies — users get more involved with their networks, and companies get more information to sell to advertisers.
However, this can be concerning to users who do not wish their information to be sold or to be publicly available. The same is true for tracking-style apps like Xora, an app whose deletion prompted the recent firing of an employee who resented the idea of being tracked 24/7.
But the real problem with apps is in their nature. Because they’re installed on a device, and often running in the background, they can constantly draw in new information about a user. Compare this to a few generations back, when the Internet could only be accessed through a hard-wired machine for specific, designated periods of time.
Wearable devices are about to provoke a new revolution in user privacy.
Wearable devices exaggerate these problems in two ways. First, they’re increasing the popularity of apps over traditional web browsing experiences. Because wearable devices have smaller screens and more intuitive interfaces, users will begin relying on apps over any other type of function or service.
Second, they’re being used in real-time. Rather than relying on a stationary desktop device or occasionally checking in on a previous-generation mobile device, wearable devices are worn and used on the go. This means greater volumes of streaming information and fewer stopgaps for the end user.
Fears Already Manifesting
Wearable devices are already starting to worry some experts about the security of private user data. Every generation of technology opens the door to new possibilities, but also opens the door to new vulnerabilities. Security professionals argue that the Apple Watch is a relatively secure device, at least compared to comparable wearable devices currently on the market — but the potential vulnerabilities are still a major unknown.
The Chinese Army has already taken measures to ban the use of the Apple Watch entirely. While China’s acts of censorship and routine banishments of Western technologies aren’t exactly new, their take-no-chances stance reflects a very real, logical concern.
What This Means For The Future Of Users
As more people become aware of the privacy threats marked by wearable devices, there could be a very significant leap forward in security and user privacy in tech companies. Responding to public concerns, app developers can make greater efforts to secure their apps and clearly explain their privacy policies. Device makers like Apple and Google can go on record about the potential vulnerabilities of their devices and inform the public about the best ways to protect themselves.
Increased regulations mean decreased liberties.
Perhaps most importantly, government organizations can step in to create some much-needed regulations about user privacy and corporate privacy policies. Already, the European Union is stepping in to protect user privacy concerns as they relate to Google’s search engine and core products — the next step would be formalizing those regulations across the board for any devices and technologies, and institute those regulations in countries throughout the world.
The trade-off is, of course, that increased regulations mean decreased liberties — both for individuals and corporations. While some will push for strict regulations and tighter privacy and security, others will maintain that personal freedoms are more important than a fleeting idea of safety.
What’s important here is not where the issue will settle, but the fact that the issue will soon be up for debate. Regardless of where these regulations and new approaches to privacy land, wearable devices are about to provoke a new revolution in user privacy.