Wearable Tech: Dream or Nightmare?

September 26, 2016

With a majority of Americans not performing enough aerobic exercise, there has been a recent push for better physical fitness. Enter: wearable technology. The trend has taken over the market: Google is spending money on tech glasses, Apple created a watch to go along with its smartphone. But the most popular of this wearable tech is the Fitbit. With 19 million registered users, the Fitbit (an activity tracker) has become a household name. The company owns 85% of the market share of fitness trackers, and made $131.8 million in profit in 2014.
However, the Fitbit has been the focus of recent lawsuits. Jawbone, another “wearable tech” company, filed a lawsuit against the Fitbit company, claiming that Fitbit poached employees and tried to get company trade secrets. Allegedly, Fitbit contacted 30% of Jawbone’s employees, attempting to hire them at Fitbit, and 5 employees jumped ship.
A class action lawsuit also recently arose; those bringing the suit allege that the Fitbit’s heart rate monitors are “highly inaccurate”. According to a study done at California State Polytechnic University, the heart rate monitors were off by as much as 20 beats per minute. This inaccuracy, while may not seem significant to some, was said to possibly put a number of the population at risk.
But why does this matter? Because these lawsuits are just the beginning of “wearable tech” lawsuits and regulations; there is a huge amount of buzz surrounding these new developments. Adidas recently sued Under Armour, alleging that Under Armour was infringing on patents used in MapMyFitness, a fitness tracker app. And in 2014, a woman was pulled over while she was wearing Google Glass; the woman was cited for having a video screen on while driving.

In addition, Major League Baseball has jumped onboard the wearable tech bandwagon.

The league has approved two devices for use in games: the Motus Baseball Sleeve, a device that measures elbow stress, and the Zephyr Bioharness, a device that monitors heart rate and breathing. These have been introduced as a way to help athletes avoid injuries and take better care of themselves. Dellin Betances of the New York Yankees signed up, wearing the Motus sleeve to monitor not only fatigue, but also force on a ligament in his arm. The data was sent to his iPhone.
This may not seem like a cause for lawsuits, but it can have a big impact in the future on healthcare and employment law, among others. The wearable tech data from the devices used in Major League Baseball is not protected by HIPAA. This raises major concerns about healthcare privacy, and could give way to lawsuits in the future. In addition, it seems that employment may be a concern; if a team sees that a pitcher is getting fatigued easily or is getting hurt, will they end contracts? Will they play the pitcher less often? Will they send him back to the minor leagues? What will happen to sponsorship deals? At this time, one can only guess, but according to Dellin Betances, the trend will “blow up”.
While wearable tech is an exciting prospect for the future, it is not without its problems. Right now, no one knows the impact that this trend will have; but it is sure to be in the headlines in the future.