Return of the time and motion man. This time he follows you home.

License Attribution Some rights reserved by Kheel Center, Cornell University

One of the risks associated with wearable tech we have been warning about is the intrusion of work and insurance into home life. As with many of our dystopian predictions this one seems to be coming true sooner than we expected. Indeed as part of a segment on wearable tech the BBC report that:

The cloud technology firm Appirio has issued many of its staff with the UP wristband, tracking everything from their food intake to their sleep patterns. It is a voluntary scheme, and Lori Williams who runs the European division of the American business says it’s already proving valuable for employees and the firm. “We’ve had about a hundred employees that have lost a stone or more in the last several months. Last month alone, we collectively walked about 17,000km (10,563 miles). So it’s making us not just better employees but I think better people. And I think that’s the benefit.” The company has also managed to cut its health insurance costs in the United States by showing its insurer the impact of this life-logging plan.

A key principle of health and safety law is that safety in the workplace cannot be over ruled just because employees agree to perform dangerous tasks. The reason for this is simple. Power relations are unbalanced and employees can be coerced by employees and management through threats or incentives. Similarly where an organization is encouraging its staff to wear monitoring devices it is unclear whether employees can freely choose not to be monitored without their refusal potentially impacting on their careers.

The staff at Appirio are skilled developers with a degree of bargaining power – however the situation may be worse for others. For example UK supermarket chain Tesco has been accused of ‘using electronic armbands to monitor its staff‘. With an ex worker claiming that ‘the Supermarket grades employees on efficiency and can reprimand them for breaks’ according to an article in The Independent.

The risks are obvious and simple: You may be coerced by employer into wearing a tracking device at work or at home. This information will be used to grade and rank you. Which means that your employeer will effectively control your home life.

“We notice that you have not been getting to sleep early enough and are not exercising in the morning” please change this before the next performance review.

Wearable tech is merging with health and insurance so in the near future: You may also be coerced by your insurer into wearing the device because refusing results in increased insurance premiums.  Wearing would also mean agreeing to whatever terms and conditions the device maker chooses to impose. It is likely that these would allow medical companies and other paying parties to look at your data. Essentially unless you are very rich you will be tracked because refusing will become unaffordable.

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