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Smartwatch News: Privacy Edition

As smartwatches gain in popularity, innovative uses for the wearable technology, along with privacy concerns, continue to pop up. In this roundup, we look at a new app that can help in atrial fibrillation studies and privacy concerns regarding smartwatches for children.

New app identifies irregular heartbeats for medical study

Apple recently launched the Apple Heart Study App, described as a “first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation.” Atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of stroke and other heart conditions.

Apple Watch users will be able to enroll in a joint study with Stanford University School of Medicine, which will use the device’s heart rate monitor to check for an irregular heart rate.  If an irregular heart rhythm is identified, the participant will receive a notification on his Apple Watch and iPhone, a free consultation with a study doctor, and an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring. This is the first study that Apple itself is sponsoring. Apple will run the study and submit data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval as a regulated software.

Apple is conducting this study with Stanford to improve the technology used to identify irregular heart rhythms. Individuals age 22 or older who own Apple Watches may participate in the study by downloading the Apple Heart Study app — which makes the study very different from those for which researchers seek out study participants directly.

It will be interesting to see whether other tech companies follow Apple’s lead and launch similar collaborations with medical researchers.

Privacy advocates raise red flags on smartwatches designed for children

Several privacy advocacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, have sent a joint letter to the FTC requesting an investigation into smartwatches for children because of privacy and security concerns.

The letter cites a report from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), which examined several internet-connected watches for children and found that attackers could hack into the devices and gain access to the child’s location and other personal details. Two of the watches that were studied allowed a hacker to access data with a few easy steps, “allowing them to eavesdrop on conversations the child is having with others, track and communicate with the child, and access stored data about the child’s location. The data is transmitted and stored without encryption.”

The watches identified in the report are Caref/Gator, TikTalk/Xplora, SeTracker/Wonlex, and Tinitell, several of which are available in the U.S.

The NCC study is a good reminder that wearable technology is not always manufactured with privacy and data security in mind and is still an area that is largely unregulated.

© 2020 Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved.


About this Author

Katherine Armstrong, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Washington DC, Data Privacy Attorney

Katherine E. Armstrong is counsel in the firm’s Government & Regulatory Affairs Practice Group where she focuses her practice on data privacy issues, including law enforcement investigations, and research and analysis of big data information practices including data broker issues.

Katherine has more than 30 years of consumer protection experience at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she served in a variety of roles, including most recently as a Senior Attorney in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.  In the Division of...