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The Big Data of Wearables

Wearables – A technology which aims to make life easier. With wearable technology, learning more about yourself has not only become high tech but also real time. From devices and apps that help you track heart rate and food consumption details to gadgets that monitor your mood and even surrounding air. According to a recent press release from International Data Corporation (IDC), a research company that analyses future trends, “Wearables took a huge step forward over the past year and shipment volumes will exceed 19 million units in 2014, more than tripling last year’s sales. From there, the global market will swell to 111.9 million units in 2018.”

Wearables 1I believe there are major four ways wearables can help improve our life:

  • Firstly wearables help keep us FIT – a bracelet which tracks your activity levels, your nutrient intake and improve your fitness. NIKE-Fuelband is one such device.
  • Secondly wearables save lives – there are wearables which are not only crucial to your health but can also save lives. A wearable health monitor and GPS location device keeps track of the elderly and can alert their caregivers when something is wrong.
  • Thirdly wearables keep us safer – an average smartphone user checks their phone 34 times a day. With people constantly looking at their devices on the go, things can get dangerous. Products like Google Glass attempt to address this challenge.
  • Fourthly wearables make things fun – apart from making things easier and improving our health, these devices can make life more interesting and fun.

Today the biggest market in wearable technology is Health & Fitness. Big companies are putting wearables to work to figure out how to use these kinds of gadget to improve their business. They are giving wearables to employees and customers to gather subtle data about how they move and act and then use that information to help them do their jobs better or improve their buying experience. However there is a big risk involved. People will naturally resist real world intrusion into their privacy, so businesses needs to be very careful about asking employees and customers to strap gadgets on their head, chest, wrists etc. This compels me to think that we need to truly evaluate the real need of wearable technology. Much of what is being done with wearable devices is happening simply because it can be done. However, many people are not yet sure about wearables and whether they want to walk around with devices strapped to them all day long.

Is this the paradox of wearables?

The Paradox of Wearables

Wearables 2Today, each one of us has so much personal digital data flowing out there that it is possible for someone to steal an entire online identity and cause real damage offline.

You already know that your personal information and references to your social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc. are all over google. This is the data that you know about and it is just a fraction of what can be unearthed with a little drilling.  What is really scary is the data that you don’t know is constantly being collected, like your location data. Multiple apps collect location data and track your movements 24×7. Apart from your mobile phone if you use a smart card to pay road-toll or access public transport, you can be tracked by that as well. Some companies are taking this to the next level by using location data to confirm that employees not in the office are actually where they claim they are.

On the financial front, every time you swipe a credit or debit card you release more digital information. A marketer may analyse credit card purchases and deduce likely interests. Online retail giants like Amazon and Ebay use such deduction algorithms when it offers hints like ‘people who viewed this product also looked at the following products’. Indian players like Myntra and Flipkart use similar analyses. Recommender systems can help people to find interesting things. Amazon’s recommendation system has helped the technology giant to reap billions in sales increases.  Netflix is a similar success story.

Put all these bits and pieces together with just a little online snooping and you could create a detailed composite of an individual’s identity. This may sound like a crime fiction but the basis for it is visible everywhere, if you know where to look. If this personal information falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to a wide spectrum of cyber-abuse like employment or housing discrimination, higher insurance rates, identity theft, or targeted advertising. Maybe it’s high time you give a second thought to the question – “how public is your private life.”

Having said all this, I see a silver lining, with wearables every individual becomes a data generator and transmitter. We generate data that is continuously collected by various government agencies and private companies. This data can be monetized and can also be used to make life easier for the people.  We just need to make sure the data does not get manipulated or misused.

What’s your take? Please chime in with your thoughts below.



Rohit YadavAuthored by:
Rohit Yadav

Rohit Yadav is a customer experience evangelist helping companies identify and make the best use of their key performance indicators and generate insights to improve their customer experience. Rohit is a regular writer on technology, analytics and customer centricity for various leading forums like Analytics India Magazine, KDnuggets, Data Science Central, CX Journey, MyCustomer.com & CustomerThink.com. Follow Rohit on Twitter @roityadav

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