Hi-tech glasses give employers big brother vision

by Hannah Norton03 Jul 2015
With the proliferation of wearable technology in Singapore – be it iPhones, smart watches or fitness trackers – it’s only a matter of time until HR can reasonably request their staff to don some form of tracking technology.

One pioneering company, Singapore Power (SP), has recently done just that. The company launched a four-month trial in which field employees wore wearable technology glasses, enabling supervisors to keep an eye on engineers by looking at their work through their eyes – literally.

A company spokesman said that if the trial is successful, “wearable technology has the potential to be a game-changer in the way our 2,000 field crew conduct their work”.

Wearables have also been pegged as hugely beneficial to the health sector, with PwC Singapore urging people to embrace the future of wearable health technology. 

“The benefits of this new technology are manifold,” a report from PwC Singapore’s healthcare and pharmaceutical Leader Abhijit Ghosh, tax director Ajay Sanganeria and senior tax manager Huang Meiqi.

“Not only can it be used by individuals to better monitor their health and activity levels, but healthcare organisations can also improve the standard of care and potentially reduce costs through remote care systems.”

But, the wearable tech boom is already triggering privacy concerns.

An example is the Swedish firm Epicentre, which has fitted its employees with microchips beneath their skin.

The chips grant them access to the office and allow them to share their business cards; but as an artificial addition to their anatomy, they are followed as they venture away from work.

The key privacy concern with regards to wearables in Singapore at the moment surrounds the protection of consumer interests – but that is likely to change to that of employees once the practice is introduced by more and more by workplaces.

The main issues are around whether there are adequate safeguards against the commercial exploitation of personal data derived from such products, TODAYOnline has reported.

In Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Act governs the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data; recognised the rights of individuals to protect their personal data.

A Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) spokesman addressed concerns surrounding wearables.

“Under (the Act), if manufacturers of wearables such as fitness trackers intend to collect the personal data of users, they will have to notify these users of the purposes and obtain consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal data in Singapore,” the spokesman told TODAY.

“Exceptions will apply, for example, in emergency situations where the life or safety of an individual is threatened. If manufacturers intend to disclose users’ personal data to other third parties like insurers for any purposes, they must obtain the users’ consent to do so.”

So should you look at introducing wearables in your workplace?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, André Spicer and Carl Cederström outlined six questions that employers need to address before implementing similar equipment into their workforce.

1. Will employees voluntarily use the wearables you’ve bought for them? 

“Before pouring money, resources, and hope into wearables in the workplace, executives need to be realistic about whether employees will actually use the devices voluntarily and over a long enough period of time to glean useful insights,” they said. “In all likelihood, many probably won’t.”

2. Do wearables invade your employees’ privacy?

“Even if your company is able to compel employees to use them, you’re likely to face questions about what information you’re actually obtaining,” they explained. “Will you suddenly have a detailed understanding of what people eat, how much they sleep, how much they drink, and what mood they are in? One very real risk is that some employees will feel that every aspect of their life is being watched, and will make choices — sometimes poor ones — based on this assumption.”

3. How will wearables blur the boundaries between work and everything else?

“Instead of spending our time monitoring social networks, we may devote the same attention to monitoring our own moods and bodies,” said Spicer and Cederström. “Keeping an eye on our vital statistics, for example, could become seen as much a part of our extended work activities as monitoring social networks and emails is today.”

4. How will you deal with all the data created by wearables?

“The sheer amount of information generated by wearable devices is likely to create an overload of data for many organisations,” warned Spicer and Cederström. “In addition to monitoring basic metrics such as performance on tasks, firms will be charged with keeping track and making sense of a huge stream of physiological, emotional, and perhaps even neurological data.”

5. Will wearables lead to increased employee stress?

“In the most minor of cases, wearables may be a source of increased stress for employees, especially if their wearable pumps out constant reminders that intrude into their flow of tasks,” Spicer and Cederström said. “The consequences of this could be lower morale or reduced productivity.”

6. Are managers willing to become life coaches?

“Companies need to ask whether it is appropriate for managers to play a role in helping to manage their employees’ personal lives — if they’re willing to become a cross between Orwell’s Big Brother and Oprah Winfrey,” Spicer and Cederström said. “If they think it is, are managers in your firm actually willing and able to do this? And is this actually desirable for your organisation?”

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