Social media has made sharing personal and professional updates easy and, in most cases, highly targeted. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as the proliferation of new social media platforms have created a window into the lives of those who are active on these platforms. One of the biggest tensions created by social media is that, while businesses are constantly looking for metrics and strategies that will enable them to advertise their content to the user at the most opportune moment, individuals seek to cut down on their social media consumption. The rise of wearable technology (e.g. smartwatches or technology-embedded clothing) has the power to revolutionize this push/pull dynamic.
The use of social media is a deliberate act, whether it is for consumption or for advertising. The power of wearable technology lies in the fact that the device knows what the user is doing and can easily broadcast this to the world even when the individual is not actively engaged with the device. The smartwatch and, more notably, Google Glass, can feed content to the user, which dramatically increases the rate at which businesses can target their audience because users need not actively access the platform. Sharing will be easier than ever.
Wearable technology creates two types of opportunities for businesses: (1) it will open the door for technology companies to expand their target market and create wearables that have the ability to support various social media strategies; and (2) there is a strategic opportunity for businesses that would like to use wearables as an advertising mechanism, given the various privacy implications of direct marketing.
While the Canadian Office of the Privacy Commissioner is certainly aware of the intrusive implications of wearables, there seems to be little guidance on how businesses can properly adapt their privacy policies to protect themselves from improper data collection. The data collected by the sensors imbedded in wearable clothing is instantaneous and the extent of this collection may be unknown to the user. This type of innovation is a significant challenge for existing privacy frameworks, which is why it is imperative for technology companies to keep a close eye on how the law adapts. In the same vein, businesses seeking to partner with technology companies supplying these wearables would be wise to monitor how the practices and policies of these companies develop in order to avoid being offside certain regulations.
For example, meaningful consent to the collection of personal information is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain since users often do not know the scope of what they are consenting to, given the complexity of wearable technologies. Therefore, considering the recent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation and the strict compliance requirements that it calls for, it would not be surprising to see continued amendments to Canadian privacy legislation at both federal and provincial levels. In fact, these would be necessary in order to keep pace with the global regulatory landscape related to privacy and with technological innovation that may challenge the existing privacy regime.
Therefore, businesses that are in the technology industry, as well as those that seek to work with novel technologies to effectively reach target audiences through social media, should be mindful of the potentially profound privacy implications and closely monitor the changes that the rise of wearables will inevitably bring.