Privacy and Wearables in the Workplace – Is There an Issue

Wearable devices have become hugely popular in recent years, to the point where it’s no longer novel to see people wearing smartwatches and fitness trackers out in public, or even in the workplace. As much as these devices have allowed for new experiences and added convenience in business and professional settings, they also come with a certain level of risk.

Illustration of a isolated smart watch icon with a 2016 sign

In business cases, a number of companies are now considering wearables as devices to use in their health and wellbeing strategies, or even for staff tracking and other operational functions. Is this a good thing for the employment relationship, and should employees have concerns regarding their privacy and the use of mandated wearable technology?

Full Disclosure Will Be Key to the Acceptance of Workplace Wearables

In an age when the majority of electronic devices are becoming increasingly connected, it is reasonable that the average person should have some concerns regarding their privacy. In personal life, a user can take their own steps to protect their personal data; so what happens when it’s an employer that controls the collection, storage, and use of personal data?

For any organization to be able to make use of wearables for any kind of employee tracking or data collection, it is important that full disclosure is made. Employees need to know what data will be collected, how they are expected to provide it (through wearables or other biometric devices), and how that data will be used. Employers have an obligation to provide all of this information upfront, and an element of transparency will help to facilitate the acceptance of any new workplace policies regarding mandatory wearable devices.

Data Protection is a Non-Negotiable Obligation

Being transparent is the first step, but it’s not enough on its own. Employers need to have an appropriate security solution that will prevent data loss, unauthorized access, or even data theft by third parties. The intent to protect data should be outlined in contractual employment agreements, and should comply with any local or federal laws regarding information collection and storage. While organizations do have some rights to collect data with employee agreement, they should also be aware that employees have the right to decline participation in any new wearable device data initiatives, which could lead employment disputes and loss of valuable staff.

With such a fine balance between making use of new technology and data, privacy, and the employment relationship, organizations will need to be careful when developing strategies regarding wearable devices. It needs to be clear how such devices and data collection will benefit an organization, and appropriate messaging should be in place to achieve employee buy-in for any new initiative.

With the right approach, wearables could allow companies to better track staff attendance, manage workplace incidents, and even ensure the health and wellbeing of employees. However, without the right management, the push for wearables could easily damage the relationship between employees and employers, making strategic planning and communication an essential aspect of implementing any new technology in the workplace.

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Expanding your IOT Horizons

DIY Applications that Could Expand the Reach and Mindshare of IoT

There are some in the IoT industry who see certain technologies as prohibitive, especially for the average user. There are a number of areas that are currently unserved by IoT technologies, sometimes due to a lack of innovation, and at other times due to there being a lack of network support in a particular geographic location.

With the increased penetration of 4G cellular coverage around the world, there is huge potential for DIY IoT services that are independent of any major branch of technology. Learning about the companies that are preparing niche devices can help you to expand your vision of what IoT is, and who it can benefit.

Here are three exciting areas that have already been embraced by the DIY IoT community.

Environmental Tracking for Agriculture

Agricultural operators could gain a lot from IoT sensors, and independent developer Mesur would like to provide the technology. This startup company creates simple sensor devices that can track atmospheric and environmental conditions to help with seeding and harvesting, allowing operators to minimize waste and increase crop yields. They also provide tailored analytical sensor software to benefit turf management, vineyard management, and even mining operations.

Private Car Telemetry Tracking

Telemetry tracking can be hugely beneficial when used for legal defense or during insurance claims. One driver who wanted to put the power of data in his own hands, went as far as creating a device that tracked his vehicle behavior, detecting speed, location, and acceleration/braking patterns. Using simple components like gyros, a GPS module, and a transmitter, individuals could create their own vehicle tracker with telemetry, and connect it to a cellular network for extensive urban and suburban coverage.

Plant Health Monitor for Home Gardeners

By combining a GSM connected microcontroller module from Particle, along with a temperature and moisture sensor, home DIY enthusiasts could create a simple device that tracks soil quality in home planters or gardens, letting them know when it’s time to get out and water the plants. With the Particle microcontroller, alerts can be sent via SMS, email, or to a mobile app. An electron 3G kit from Particle costs less than $70 USD, and as demand for DIY devices increases, these costs are likely to come down even further.

Using a Particle Microcontroller for Almost Any Application

Particle is one of the leading companies when it comes to home and small scale IoT development. Their electron IoT microcontroller kit can provide cellular service in virtually any country that has coverage, and the microcontroller can be used with multiple sensors for virtually any application. Whether a user wanted to create a GPS tracker for their vehicle, or a door sensor for their home, the Particle would be perfect for the job.

As other companies develop DIY-friendly kit sets and technologies, it is likely that the number of home-based IoT enthusiasts will increase, and devices like the Particle could even find their way into schools and tertiary education facilities, where they will inspire the next generation of IoT designers and innovators.

Smarter Cities with The Internet of Things

Parking meters, information signs, CCTV, traffic signals – almost everywhere that you look in a modern city, there’s a microchip embedded device, connecting to what has now become known as the all-encompassing Internet of Things. Although we often overlook the fact, cities are, in essence, huge and complex businesses. Cities compete for residents, investors, tourists, and even funding from central government. For cities to remain relevant, they have to become smarter, leaner, and more connected. The IoT is helping the world’s largest cities to do this, and it’s all happening on a grand scale, and at a phenomenal rate.

According to Gartner Research, in this year alone, 5.5 million new ‘things’ are expected to become connected every day. From consumer devices like smartphones and fitness devices, to interactive flat panel displays and information kiosks, IoT is seeing huge adoption rates and staggering investment. Just over a year ago, an IDC FutureScape report predicted that local government bodies would represent up to a quarter of all government spending, specifically because of investment into the research and implementation of connected technologies.

Simple Ideas are Changing How Cities are Run

Looking at just a few of the innovative technologies from the last five years, it is possible to start developing a picture of what smart cities will look like within the next decade. Bitlock is an innovative technology that uses proximity keys to automatically activate or deactivate bike locks. At the same time, the system uses an owner’s smartphone to record the GPS location of the lock and bike. Such a system could be utilized on a large scale, such as in a bike sharing program in heavily congested cities. Private and government organizations could track bikes for better management, and they could even use the uploaded data to provide real time updates for bike availability, while also recording patterns of utilization.

Streetline is another smart city technology that shows great promise. Using networked parking sensors, Streetline can record parking availability in real time, and report to city officials and publicly available smartphone apps, simultaneously. The technology is in widespread use around Los Angeles, and as of May this year, over 490 million individual parking events had been recorded and reported using Streetline sensors. Studies have shown that smart parking systems can reduce peak parking congestion by up to 22%, and can reduce total traffic volume by 8%. With other technologies like IBM’s Intelligent Transportation Solutions, local governments could utilize devices to gather real time aggregated data which can be used to measure traffic volume, speed, and other metrics, which could be used to design better policy and city planning.

Opportunities for IoT Skilled Professionals

Innovative technologies like these are just the beginning of what is possible in a smart city. Emerging technologies have the potential to make major cities more functional and convenient for residents and visitors, and more manageable for government bodies. Even so, there are still challenges to overcome. Infrastructure is a major challenge, and cities will need to plan and implement high speed networks, as well as the servers that are necessary to support their sensors and other systems. Storage and processing needs will increase as IoT becomes more widespread, and security will need to become a major area of focus. Security is not just necessary to safeguard systems, but also to protect end user privacy and data.

It’s clear that smart technologies and IoT are the future of the world’s major cities. Which in turn means that experienced developers, operations professionals, engineers, and IT security specialists will be in high demand, with growing opportunities in the immediate future, and in the coming years.

Police are Seeking Amazon Echo Data for Use in Murder Trial

Amazon Echo and other virtual devices are now part of the legal landscape. As of last week, police are seeking access to Amazon Echo information to see if the Amazon data has something that will help them with a murder case.

According to The Information the police and the attorneys involved in the case from Bentonville Arkansas have issued a warrant to Amazon asking them to hiand over any and all audio or records from Echo that belong to James Andrew Bates. Bates will go to trial for the murder of Victor Collins in 2017.

While Amazon has declined to give any of the recorded information from the Echo that it has on its servers, the company did give the account details and the account purchases from the account to the police. The police state that they could pull some data from the speaker but what they could get was unclear.

The Echo device is always on and can be awoken so police want information that may be stored on the device of an audio nature. According to Gabe Guttierez the police want to see what the device recordings may tell them. “We know Amazon has a copy because consumers can actually listen to all their Alexa requests and they can delete them, so that’s an option that’s available in a lot of these technologies–something that’s good for consumers to know,” stated privacy expert Bob Sullivan.

According to WHO TV the prosecutors say 32-year-old James Bates murdered his co-worker Victor Collins, who was found strangled in Bates’ hot tub.”

Bates, who called 9-1-1 when he found Collins, has pleaded not guilty to the crime and of course isn’t thrilled with the Amazon data being called into play. He had multiple other smart devices attached to his home at the time, including a water meter. The water meter showed that more than 140 gallons of water were used between 1 and 3 am when Collins was murdered.

Investigators state that he used that water to clean up a crime scene. The Echo and other devices like it are supposed to find answers for you by listening to what you tell it to do, but the police in Bentonville believe that it can help with the case by telling them what it heard.

“Did anybody think when this was being created that information you gave to Alexis or you gave to the amazon echo would be used outside your home, and then be used to have you arrested for a crime you didn’t commit?” asked Bates’ defense attorney Kim Weber.

Amazon told WHO TV.com — NBC News that it “will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

“When we give companies data, the big problem is not only how will it be used today, but how could it be combined with other data in the future and then used against us,” remarked privacy expert Sullivan.

How it all plays out remains to be seen but based on the Echo and the hot water meter, it appears that your smart devices may be the best witnesses against you.