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Internet of Things February 2023 Viewpoints

The Risk on Your Wrist

By Matthew Beecham

Overview

Smart wearables are increasing in popularity partly because the devices generate personal data that consumers find useful. The ubiquity, small size, and autonomy of the devices broaden their use cases. However, the devices also present new security and privacy risks. Wearables data are now receiving mainstream attention from lawmakers and consumers.

Description

Wearable technology (fitness applications, infotainment devices, health-care and medical devices) collects, transmits, and processes data from the wearer using embedded sensors to exchange data with other devices. Consumers' appetite for smart wearables appears strong. In a US survey by ValuePenguin (a research arm of US‑based online lending exchange LendingTree), 45% of respondents said that they regularly wear smartwatches such as Apple Watches (20%) or Fitbits (16%). Research firm Gartner says the rise in work‑from-home business models and increased focus on health-monitoring during the covid‑19 pandemic have been significant factors driving the market growth.

Wearable technology is becoming one of the key interfaces for the Internet of Things (IoT) in the consumer space, including tracking health and controlling smart homes. As the functionality of these devices evolves, the embedded IoT sensors powering them will likely become capable of increasingly accurate readings, thereby driving further market growth. For example, Apple is exploring how to make its smartwatch predict asthma attacks. A study by Grand View Research states that the global wearable-technology market will reach a value of $186.14 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 14.6% over the forecast period.

Implications

Although the tech-development prospects of wearable technology are good, some well-publicized data breaches have led to a privacy backlash that could hamper growth. Consumers, already stung by a string of privacy and data breaches, may be unwilling to use wearables that record data about their activity and health if these data are then sold to a third party. Bluetooth signals from smart devices also transmit trackable and identifiable data. Another issue with wearable IoT technology is the occasional lack of encryption.

Evolving biometric technologies will help improve data security through increasingly advanced methods of reliable identification and authentication. Advances in edge computing will also pave the way for more efficient applications, enabling smart devices with greater accuracy, security, and power efficiency. Processing data at the edge instead of transferring them to a central server reduces the chances that hackers will intercept the data.

The smart-wearables industry is still in its infancy. Vendors that address concerns about personal-data privacy and security head‑on—instead of as an afterthought—and use this as a differentiating factor have a greater chance of earning consumer trust and winning in the marketplace. Even so, consumers have some responsibility to mitigate risk by ensuring their software and apps are up‑to-date and by disabling unauthorized pairing of their wearable devices.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Wearable Technology

    Wearable technologies—including smartwatches, smart clothing, AR headsets, and hearables—are enabling new ways for users to interact with devices and software. Currently, developers are incorporating health sensors and activity- and health-tracking software into devices. Such devices may one day enable advanced interfaces.

  • Cybersecurity

    Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency and severity. Networked cyber-physical systems require extensive security measures, because attacks against such systems could cause significant damage. Hackers constantly find new vulnerabilities; therefore, organizations must continually monitor and improve their systems.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: Medium.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: 5 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • AI/Automation/Software
  • Health/Medicine/Wellness
  • Internet of Things
  • Sensors/Electronics
  • Information/Telecommunications

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas