Wearable technologies aimed at private consumers constitute a nascent market, expected to grow very fast. Their disruptive power is exemplified by the competition between established technology giants and start-ups. In particular, the development of the wearable market relies on its capacity to break down barriers between creative industries and digital technology companies.
Numerous technology companies and startups are working to make the next wearable device or application for body data tracking. The design focus is to connect multiple sensors and apps on the body for a more integrated view of the data (as happens currently between data collected by trackers and corresponding smartphones), called a Body-Area Network of wearable devices, connected with the ‘Internet of Things’, such as smart home appliances to provide a seamless network of humans and things across the internet. A trend for service-based packages that can be observed, which includes wearable technology products, data collection, as well as data analysis and evaluation.
The development of wearable technology will further increase the quantity and the diversity of this data. Currently, wearable technology collects user’s personal (physiological) data, most commonly through medical or fitness monitoring. Technology are becoming more efficient, accurate, and personalised. Hardware becomes smaller, less visible, more connected and the collected data more seamless and ubiquitous. The wearable technology companies own the users’ physiological data, collected via mobile apps and devices, with the ability to perform any kind of operations on it, such as analyse it, interpret it, or sell it, without user consent. For example, personal fitness activity data has, in numerous cases, been used to monitor workers’ health for job-worthiness.23 These issues are rarely discussed beyond the fine print on these devices and some vaguely described security policies and long EULAs (End User Licence Agreements).
Raising awareness around ethical issues on personal data collection
At the core of the growing wearables market is the amount of data these electronic technologies are able to capture, in particular their users’ personal data. This raises ethical issues regarding the ownership of this data, and what wearable providers do with that data, among other ethical issues, such as labour issues manufacturing, and mineral sourcing in the supply chain. By building this knowledge, users can better understand and articulate their rights to access, own, explore, and use their body data, and play a more active role in interpreting or reinterpreting this data, however they choose, which is presently not impossible but not easy. From a strict business point of view, improving awareness of privacy issues would also encourage consumers to use the products more often.
It is timely and urgent that critical questions awareness is raised around related issues, such as the use and deployment of the devices, in a variety of ways, and that their users become more aware and educated about the critical side of developing wearable technologies, electronic textiles and smart fashion, as well as the related dimensions of aesthetics, sustainability, and environmental impacts. Yet there need to be methods to ensure continued sustainable development is implemented, especially in the way in which wearable technology and smart / e-textiles industries design, develop, source materials and planned for reuse, recycling or waste disposal.
The story behind WEAR Sustain comes from a much deeper motivation from the consortium partners, each being motivated by a passion about changing the way industry, especially the electronics and technology industry and supply-chain, but also the fashion and textiles industries, and how they make their products. We all want to help to stop harming the environment, surveilling on customers and users, and want generally contribute to better ways of doing things for the benefit of society. What drives those of us who initiated WEAR Sustain is: to contribute to innovation with a purpose, with a soul and aim to build a network of like-minded pioneers.
WEAR Sustain has its lineage in another EU project some of the current partners, Camille Baker and Rachel Lasebikan were learning on called Fet-Art & its umbrella initiative ICT Art Connect that did a follow up study, which imec’s acquired company iMinds was a partner in. The follow-on projects, initiated by the European Commission’s (ICT) department DG-Connect, are the STARTS Prize & the VERTIGO project. The Creative Ring is another associated EU project that is working closely with the WEAR projects that two of our partners are also involved in to support our activities in Europe. More on the project and partners can be found at wearsustain.eu/consortium-partners.