The Blurry Line of Wearables

Imagine a world where your heart rate, sleep pattern, and other biometrics are being measured and monitored by your employer on a daily basis. They can decide when and how much you can work based on these metrics. They can decide how much to pay you or even fire you based on this information. This is the world that a lot of athletes now live in. Wearable biometric trackers are becoming the norm in sports across the world. The NBA has begun adopting it to aid recovery and monitor training regimens. MLB is using it to monitor pitchers’ arms. There are European sports teams that display this information on a jumbo-tron live in the arena.

Currently in the NBA, the collective bargaining agreement between the player’s union and the NBA state that “data collected from a Wearable worn at the request of a team may be used for player health and performance purposes and Team on-court tactical and strategic purposes only. The data may not be considered, used, discussed or referenced for any other purpose such as in negotiations regarding a future Player Contract or other Player Contract transaction.” The line between using biometric data for strategic or health purposes and using it for contract talks or roster decisions can become blurred quickly. What begins as a simple monitoring of heart rate in practice can end with a team cutting a player for being out of shape or not trying hard enough. A pitcher getting rested by a team because they saw that his arm is tiring out can lead to less money next time that pitcher negotiates for a contract since that pitcher played in less games. If a team sees that a player isn’t sleeping as much as they should, they can offer less money and say that it’s because the player is going out partying too much and they question his character. These are all possible ethical and legal violations of a player’s rights. Being able to monitor a player during a game is one thing. But being able to monitor their entire lives and controlling what they can or cannot do and tying that to their paycheck is another.

On top of these ethical and legal issues that wearables raise, there are also a lot of privacy risks. These players are in the public eye every day and leaks happen within organizations. The more sensitive medical information a team collects, the more risks there are that there are of HIPAA violations. Imagine if a player gets traded or cut for what seems like an unexplainable reason to the public. People might start questioning if there are medical issues with the player. Fans love to dissect every part of a player’s life and teams love to post as much information as possible online for their fans to look at. We’ve seen the risks of open public datasets and how even anonymized information can be de-anonymized and tied back to an individual. With the vast amount of information in the world about these players, this is definitely a risk.

All of these issues come as wearable technology become commonplace, but there are other risks on the horizon. We’re beginning to see embeddables, such as a pill to take or a device implemented under the skin, being developed and it will only be a matter a time before professional sports start taking advantage of it. These issues are not only faced by professional athletes. Think about your own job. Do you wear a badge at work? Can your employer track where you are at all times and analyze your performance based on that? What if in the future DNA testing is required? As more technology is developed and data is collected, we need to be aware of the possible issues that come with it and ask ourselves these questions.

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