Workplace wearables come with privacy tradeoff for employees

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Fitness tracking wearables made by companies such as Fitbit and Apple are raising new privacy concerns as more employers get ahold of employee health data, according to The Washington Post.

The use of employee wearables allows employers and insurance companies access to employee health data including 24/7 heart rate and an individual's number of sedentary hours per day.

Partnerships like Apple and Aetna's health app have driven the increase in workplace wearables. Through their new collaboration, the tech giant and the insurance company are designing a new iPhone and Apple Watch app that will reward Aetna members for meeting various health goals based off data users can opt into sharing.

Lee Tien, a senior attorney at nonprofit consumer privacy advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Washington Post there is a risk that health data could be abused to favor healthy employees and even punish individuals who are less healthy.

"The more that employers know about their employees' lives, especially outside the workplace, off-duty hours, the more potential control or effects they have on their lives in the first place," Mr. Tien told The Washington Post. "It's quite possible there will be effects on whether you are retained, promoted, demoted — who is first to be laid off."

Restrictions on health data disclosure under HIPAA do not apply if an employee gives health data to an employer or company such as Fitbit or Apple, Joe Jerome, a policy lawyer at Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, told The Washington Post.

Fitbit's privacy policy says the company can share information with corporate affiliates, service providers and unspecified "other partners," according to the report. When asked about its consumer privacy policy, Fitbit told The Washington Post it is committed to protecting consumer privacy and control and believes "corporate wellness programs should always be inclusive, voluntary and should protect the privacy of the people they are aimed to serve."

In addition to health data some companies can add information on social predictors of health such as credit scores when determining employee risk forecasts.

"The Fitbit or Apple Watch applications… may yield clues to things about you that you are not even aware of, or not ready for other people to know," Mr. Tien said, according to The Washington Post. "Individuals and consumers who are buying these devices don't understand that is a potential consequence."

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