The Wearables are coming – Resistance is futile!

Although the Wearables-trend was set some time ago (do you remember the sports jackets marketed by the famous Italian fashion-label Zegna around the year 2007 where you could put an iPod into its inside pocket and operate the iPod via controls built into the jacket’s sleeve), the “Next (namely: networked) Generation” boldly goes where no man has gone before.

Today, fitness-trackers in bracelets already are widespread, and soon “Sense” will not only monitor our sleeping environment, but also our sleeping habits in order to reward us with a “Sleeping Score”. If our Sleeping Score is too low, we might want to improve our sleeping environment based on Sense’s monitoring results so that we can sleep better and thus achieve a better score. With regard to fitness-trackers, things literally do not run differently: Life is a hunt for the next high-score and if our fitness-score is too low, we take the stairs instead of the elevator.

And, when we will put on that Apple watch in spring 2015 for transferring our Tesla Motors car’s data (such as battery charge, mileage and routes driven) into the cloud, we, in the eyes of some data privacy activists, are finally there, even though Google Glass was (preliminarily?) abandoned: The Borg arrive – millions of people who form a dense sensor-net that constantly measures and evaluates everything and everyone. In contrast to the Borg, however, it is not the collective awareness of the human kind that primarily shall benefit from “Big Data”, but the service-providers and their business partners – such as insurers offering customer-specific health-, life-, disability and car insurance policies along the line of “if you live a healthy life and drive slowly, your insurance premiums are lower”.

Certainly, the device-suppliers and service-providers have a vital interest in also exploiting the collectively gathered data aside their specific services because they either offer their services dirt-cheap or free of charge: namely, the main asset of such business models is a large user base so that as many diverse data as possible can be gathered and subsequently exploited.

And that, precisely, is the point: Only by exploiting such data otherwise, such offers may be sustainable – whilst we are already used to the comfort they provide. However, we would not even think of spending one single cent on Apps like Google Maps (location tracking!), Find My Phone (location tracking!), Runtastic (fitness and, since recently, sleeping habit tracking!) or Amazon (product preference tracking!).

Therefore, the personal data that we provide to such services should basically be seen as fee or other consideration: In exchange for our data, we receive the comfort that we are already used to and that is provided by the measuring devices and Apps. This view, however, has not yet found its way into European Data Privacy Laws. On the contrary: just as the legal requirements regarding the concerned individual’s consent become higher, so do the penalties for violations. Thus, the European Data Privacy Laws seem anachronistic. This even more applies to the Austrian particularities arising out of the strict approaches taken by the Austrian Data Protection Authority and the Austrian Supreme Court.

Consequently, it is time to reconsider the basic model of the European Data Privacy Laws. Otherwise, these Laws will simply be assimilated by technological progress – resistance is futile. And so things come full circle here: The Borgs are already here! However, they seem to have come in peace!

PS: This contribution was published in the online issue of the daily newspaper “Die Presse” on 10 February 2015. See