Wearable devices, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, have become increasingly popular in healthcare, fitness, and entertainment applications. The market is projected to grow by 12.5% each year through 2028, topping $118 million (source: Grand View Research). However, these devices can expose your family’s personal information in ways that impact your privacy and physical safety.
For example, a mass leak of user data was identified in 2021 for GetHealth, a third-party platform that collected data from several major wearable device services. GetHealth had access to user data from Apple, FitBit, Microsoft, and Google devices, including users’ names, GPS data, dates of birth, and fitness logs. The database of unprotected user information was identified online by security researchers and it is unknown how long it had been publicly available before this discovery.
Consider the following ways in which your family’s wearable devices may be inadvertently impacting your safety and privacy:
- Wearable devices that collect your personal health information are not necessarily beholden to data protection regulations. Wearable devices often collect your health information, such as heart rate, sleep cycle, and patterns of physical activity. Since these data points are also ones that you may discuss with your doctor, it’s easy to assume the information on your smart device is protected and regulated by the same standards as medical data maintained by health professionals, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But in reality, there are no clear HIPAA regulations for wearable technology, as long as the data is collected for personal use. Many commonly used wearable devices fall short of industry standards for storing and transmitting health data.
- Your family’s information is likely being sold to third parties. Wearable devices collect several types of your personal data, including health and financial information. In many cases that data is being used to inform targeted advertisements or being sold to third parties.
- Connecting a wearable device to your home security system may create vulnerabilities. Smartwatches can be tied to smart home security devices, such as an alarm system or electronic door locks. However, any cybersecurity weaknesses in the device are now also connected to the larger home security system, which bad actors may be able to take advantage of. Furthermore, if someone in your family loses a smartwatch that grants access to your home’s locks and alarms, it could make you an easy target for burglars.
- Your family—including your children—may be unintentionally sharing their location. Most wearable devices are GPS-enabled so they can track your fitness routines, provide directions, and support apps requiring location data. However, the default settings may be publicly sharing your location data unless you’ve restricted the settings.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers have many benefits – they are convenient, entertaining, and can help you be more productive. But they can also open the door to safety and privacy concerns for your family. Be a smart consumer and take steps to secure your family’s wearable devices.