Part Four // Smart Watches, Wearables, and That Nasty Data Rash

Part Four // Smart Watches, Wearables, and That Nasty Data Rash

da•ta rash \ˈdātə ˈrash\, n. an irritating or unsightly eruption of information on the wrist or other site of wearable technology.

We find the idea of data rash to be extremely compelling, so we’re featuring a series of posts in which IoT usability expert (and our emerging platforms advisor) Josh Clark dives into the idea. This is post 4 of 6.

Clothing and accessories are essential to our public identity, and so their augmented versions should likewise augment and extend the broadcast of that identity. This sharing won’t always be visible, and the target of the sharing won’t always be people. Wearing data means that we expand our social circle beyond people and to the smart things and places that surround us.

Location data was what gave smartphones the magic necessary to create a mainstream wave of mobile computing. For wearable computing, identity data seems likely to be a similarly critical ingredient. Gadgets like the Nymi bracelet or Disney’s MagicBand turn our bodies into secure broadcasters of unique identity. Both use biometrics to ensure that you’re the one actually wearing them—Nymi via heart signature and MagicBand via bone density scan. By broadcasting unique identity, they open the opportunity to let us invisibly negotiate with trusted sources to wrangle anything from government services, to door locks, to payments, to restaurant reservations.

But this approach has an important secondary effect, too. When wearables focus on identity first, they can relegate a whole range of features, sensors, and data-gathering functions to other gizmos that happen to be nearby. Your bed is perhaps better suited to tracking your sleep patterns than a bracelet, for example; the bed just needs to know that it’s you who’s sleeping in it. Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai calls these embedded technologies “there-ables,” devices and sensors that are already there in the room; you just show up.

A sensible way to avoid data rash is simply to limit exposure to information allergens. Let’s find ways to reduce the number of sensors we have to wear and push them instead into the smart environment around us. Certain activities will always require wearable sensors in order to work. We have to wear pedometers or heart-rate monitors to make them go. But a whole host of location, security, and home automation features can be pushed off of our bodies and into the semi-smart environments around us.

When sensors can live near us instead of actually wrapped around us, we don’t have to wear so many of the things in the first place. How many bracelets are we expected to strap on, after all? My friend Rachel Kalmar, a data scientist, often wears over 20 smart bracelets at a time in order to make the point that most of them are at once redundant and incompatible. The emerging wearables industry can surely do better.

Alas, there’s a potentially troublesome outcome if we make wearables focus on identity in order to outsource data-gathering: it could make our identities far more public than most of us are comfortable with. When our gadgets start announcing our presence to any device in broadcast range, it’s easy to imagine those devices getting a little pushy. A subset of marketers persistently and excitedly promise a future of location-based advertising where we’re pummeled by ad messages and discount offers as we pass by storefronts or walk through shop aisles. What could be more horrific than a “service” that bombards you with ads you can never escape? This is perhaps the worst kind of information poisoning: wandering endlessly through a thick and toxic cloud of targeted commercial messaging.

And so we must take care. Managing identity, that most personal piece of data, requires respect, transparency, and the confidence to cede control to the individual.

Next, we’ll dive deeply into how our wearables should also be designed for the individual. You can read the article in it’s entirety here.  

Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave.  Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables. You look nice today!