Will Wearable Computers’ Data Defeat Governance Efforts?

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

Wearable Computing: Creativity from Head to Toe

This week is the Wearables DevCon in San Francisco. Isn’t that a strange idea — we now have developer conventions for glasses, watches and “sport wearables,” whatever that entails. Real developers are assembling to discuss such topics as “APIs: The Secret to Making Wearables Relevant” and “An Emotional Approach to the Design of Wearable Medical Devices.”

This will sound silly, but it recently hit me that this is where we are with technology, and yet we really do not have a handle on how to govern the data that will come from it. We’re not sure about privacy or quality or security or ownerships, or any of the data that might be rolling off us.

It makes me wonder: Who has ownership over our heartbeat? Who’s responsible for armpit compliance? What happens if our underwear suffers a data breach?


I’m partially kidding, of course, or at least, I hope I am. But a recent piece by OCDQ blogger and data quality expert Jim Harris made me think seriously about whether governance capabilities in general are up to the task of managing Internet of Things data and, especially, the extremely personal data that will roll out of wearables.

“Data governance can be thought of as the overall process for gaffe-proofing an organization’s data,” Harris writes.

As more data is gathered and the world becomes more interconnected, the opportunity for gaffes with the data increases dramatically, he explains.

“While organizations of all sizes are rightfully excited about the business potential of using big data, this excitement needs to be balanced by acknowledging the business risks associated with not governing the ways big data is used,” Harris warns.

To my thinking, data quality is primarily a business or organizational problem. For instance, if your company has two versions of my name on a mailing list, then you pay printing, paper and posting, but I just end up recycling two sales flyers. It may add to the cost of products in the long run, but mostly it’s your problem, not mine.

But wearables and the Internet of Things are an entirely different ball game, putting data governance and quality in a whole new light.

So, I hope our intrepid wearable developers will take to heart the recommendation of FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, who argued in November that privacy by design principles must apply to smart devices and the Internet of Things.

“With really big data comes really big responsibility,” Ramirez is quoted as saying. “It's up to the companies who take part in this ecosystem to embrace their role as stewards of the consumer data they collect and use.”

I’m not sure about that last part. This strikes me as a perfect case for government regulation. And though I haven’t collected real data yet, my gut says our underwear would agree.



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