Privacy Concerns Overshadow Wearable Tech: Study

The view from Google Glass.

A new study suggests that people believe “wearable technology” will improve their lives.

The study, commissioned by Rackspace in association with the Centre for Creative and Social Technology (CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London, relied on a sample of 4,000 adults in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Some 18 percent of those respondents used some sort of wearable technology; of those, 82 percent in the U.S. and 71 percent in the U.K. thought those devices enhanced their lives in some way. Some 22 percent of U.S. respondents, along with 19 percent of those in the U.K., indicated a willingness to wear a device “that monitors location for central government activity,” according to a summary of the study. A third of respondents were amenable to wearable tech that shared health data with a healthcare provider or agency.

But roughly half of the respondents saw privacy concerns as a major barrier to the adoption of wearable tech. Roughly two-thirds of them thought Google Glass and similar hardware should be regulated in some way, and 20 percent believed such devices should be banned from use.

“It is important to note that wearable technology and the cloud go hand in hand—together they provide the rich data insights that help users better manage many aspects of their lives,” Robert Scoble, Rackspace’s technology evangelist and someone famous for wearing his Google Glass headset in the shower, wrote in a statement attached to the study. “Cloud computing is powering the wearable technology revolution. It allows the data generated by wearable devices to be captured, analysed and made readily accessible whenever users need it.”

Other studies have supported the theory that people will buy wearable technology. In April, for example, research firm IHS suggested that the “smart glasses” market could grow to roughly 9.4 million units by 2016—a number that depends greatly on Google Glass succeeding in the open marketplace.

“The applications are far more critical than the hardware when it comes to the success of Google Glass,” Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at IHS, wrote in a statement accompanying the prediction. “In fact, the hardware is much less relevant to the growth of Google Glass than for any other personal communications device in recent history. This is because the utility of Google Glass is not readily apparent, so everything will depend on the appeal of the apps.”

ChangeWave Research (a service of 451 Research) has also issued data indicating that a significant percentage of users would purchase an Apple “iWatch,” should such a “smart” timepiece hit the market at some future point. Some 5 percent of respondents to that survey indicated they were “very likely” to buy an “iWatch,” with another 14 percent suggesting they were “somewhat likely” to do so. But “smart watches,” unlike Google Glass, remain a rumor at this time.

For the moment, “wearable tech” is a category of wristbands that monitor biometrics and monitor daily activity, augmented-reality glasses and other headsets, and even sensors that attach to clothing. If the tech giants—i.e., Google and Apple—build and market “smart” glasses and watches that prove blockbusters, the market could explode. More people will walk around with devices that stream data to the cloud—and the privacy complaints from some quarters will be louder than ever.


Image: Google