The Perils of the new Apple Watch | DMA

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The Perils of the new Apple Watch


So there has been a lot of coverage of the launch of the new Apple watch and ever one to jump on a band wagon I thought I would do the same.

However, I am not going to offer a view about whether you should buy one, or the limitations of having to link to existing iPhone apps (well for the moment at least) or whether my father will ever wear and use one (highly unlikely given he leaves his mobile phone on the mantle piece so he “always knows where it is”!). Although having said all that there does seem to be an emergent opinion of “what is the point” so it could well be Apple are not looking at the next category slayer here.

No, I want to consider the data layers that such a device will start to open up and what that might mean for us as consumers but moreover for organisations trying to make sense of and use this data. Apple have described the watch as opening up a whole new dimension of personal time keeping, it also opens up a whole new dimension of personal data.

Firstly does this new device offer a greater layer of data beyond the iPhone potentially for users, brands or Apple The short answer for the short term is not really. We already have browsing information, geo location and usage data and the watch is unlikely to add to this. Apple already have a wealth of data and can tell already where we work, how fast we travel to work, who we might associate with and where we go shopping. What they don’t know yet is what you bought, well that is until you start paying using Apple pay, which by the way also works on the Apple watch.

However there are some new features which we should take note of. The watch contains an accelerometer, GPS and a heart rate monitor. This means it not only gathers data on how much you move and exercise but also the quality of that exercise and can “encourage” you do to more if you have not hit daily goals.

What this means is that Apple will now know who you are, where you work, how you exercise and also potentially what you buy.

Don’t get me wrong, I can really see the convenience of having my Oyster card, payment card and fitness tracking all in one place where I can see it. My issue is so can anyone else with access to the data. I am not saying that Apple would seek to exploit personal fitness data but you can see a very attractive business model sitting on top of all that data about you and I.

There has already been some adverse commentary in the fitness tracking and devices area. For example “Fitbit” were criticised for having a default user privacy setting as public access for shared and uploaded data. In short Fitbit (a small wristband device that measures exercise and health data) offered a free web site (and yes we should all note that it was free) where users could upload, store and analyse their Fitbit outputs. The problem came that being in a default public access mode all the users data was available to view including commentaries on how many calories were being burned amorously (come on, you can fill in the gaps).

But even this is not what worries me with the Apple watch. What worries me is the fact that all this data is in one place and sitting with a trusted brand, absolutely, that is riding high currently, sure, but one that is ultimately a commercial organisation that may be looking for alternative revenue sources in the future. Apples recent history may be excellent but there have been times not that long ago when Apple stock was almost worthless. Apple now potentially has access to all the data that matters in our lives, both virtual or digital and physically real. This is the first time in human history that a corporation has the ability to know more about us then we do ourselves.

The rosy view for the future of the Apple watch is that it is genuinely a convenient and easy to use device, handily located on our wrist, which will literally open doors (well, hotel room or garage doors anyway), let us pay with a simple wave of the hand and which will keep an eye on whether we are looking after ourselves well or not.

The more dystopian view is that a single corporation can now access and analyse who I am, what I do, what I buy and what sort of physical activity do I engage in. What is the value of this to Apple but moreover to health insurers, Governments or my employer. Could they, would they use this information to drive healthcare or insurance premiums, benefits payments or even whether or not I get a job.

Apple in the US are already working with a number of charities and seeking volunteers to understand more about the medical applications that the watch could enable so there is progress along this road.

I am all for open data and using data to build better products and services based on my needs, the rosy view offers a lot of genuine convenience, my fear is that we sleep walk into the dystopian future and then cannot rewind ourselves from that place.

What do you think? Lots of potential to make life easier or undue paranoia in this digital and data age?

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