In recent years, wearable digital health technology has gained immense popularity as people become more conscious about monitoring their health and fitness in real-time.1 These innovative devices, including fitness trackers and smartwatches, provide users with the ability to monitor their activity levels, heart rate, and even their sleep patterns. Despite the numerous benefits, such as convenient data tracking and better health management, these devices raise ethical concerns regarding data protection and privacy. It is essential to emphasize the importance of privacy when it comes to wearable digital health technology since personal health data is highly sensitive and confidential. Unauthorized access or misuse of this data has led to severe ethical privacy concerns.
One of the primary ethical concerns with wearable digital health technology is data collection and storage. As these devices track and monitor personal health data, such as heart rate, activity levels, and sleep patterns, they collect a significant amount of personal data. This data is often stored in the cloud, and third-party access is granted to companies and researchers who may use this data for various purposes. This can lead to concerns regarding data privacy and security. As many wearable devices share data with third-party apps and services, it is often unclear how this data is being used.2 This leads to privacy concerns, as personal health data can be sold to advertisers or used for other purposes without the individual's knowledge or consent. In addition to these concerns, the risks of data breaches and identity theft are also significant as personal health data is highly sensitive.3 A data breach or cyber attack can lead to serious consequences, such as financial loss or damage to an individual’s reputation.4
Current laws and regulations on privacy and data protection, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)5 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)6, provide some protection for personal health data. However, there is still a need for stronger regulations and industry self-regulation to ensure the proper use and protection of personal health data. While industry self-regulation and voluntary codes of conduct are currently being developed to address these concerns, analysis of the adequacy and effectiveness of current regulatory frameworks indicate that these protocols provide insufficient protection for personal health data.2
Wearable digital health technology has been the subject of several high-profile privacy breaches and data misuse cases in recent years. In 2018, Strava, a fitness tracking app that allows users to track and share their workout routes, inadvertently revealed the locations of military bases and personnel around the world7. In addition, Fitbit, a popular fitness tracking device, faced a class-action lawsuit in 2011 for allegedly selling personal health data to third-party advertisers without user consent8. With these cases it is clear that there is a need for informed consent and better user autonomy in the collection and use of personal health data as it is essential that individuals are fully informed about how their personal health data is being used.4
Overall, wearable digital health technology holds great promise for the future of healthcare, but it is crucial to address the ethical concerns surrounding privacy and data protection. The use of personal health data without informed consent and user autonomy creates a risk of privacy breaches and data misuse, which can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and society as a whole. As the use of these technologies expands, it is imperative that we prioritize privacy and ethical considerations. To achieve this, we must implement stronger regulations and encourage industry self-regulation to protect personal health data and user autonomy. By doing so, we can ensure that the benefits of wearable digital health technology are fully realized while maintaining the utmost respect for personal privacy and security.
- El-Shazly, A. (2021). Wearable digital health technology. In Health Informatics (pp. 1-14). Springer.
- Mantovani, E., & Corradi, A. (2018). Ethical and legal implications of the risks of wearable technologies. European Respiratory Journal, 51(2), 1702179.
- Li, J., & Cheng, T. (2020). A Review on the Privacy and Security of Wearable Health Systems: Requirements, Solutions, and Challenges. IEEE Access, 8, 188754-188766.
- Wicklund, E. (2018). Wearables in the workplace raise data privacy concerns. Health Data Management. https://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/wearables-in-the-workplace-raise-data-privacy-concerns.
- General Data Protection Regulation, 2016. Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation). https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/reg/2016/679/oj
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Public Law 104-191 (HIPAA). (1996). https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-104publ191/html/PLAW-104publ191.htm
- The Guardian. (2018, January 28). Fitness tracking app gives away location of secret US army bases. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/28/fitness-tracking-app-gives-away-location-of-secret-us-army-bases
- Top Class Actions. (2016, April 27). Fitbit Sleep Tracker Class Action Settlement. Retrieved from https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/closed-settlements/fitbit-sleep-tracker-class-action-settlement/