In the second instalment of the Toronto Wearables Series in IP Osgoode’s IPilogue, I discussed how wearable technology, such as smart watches or smart headbands, has become somewhat common. Indeed, it has enabled users to conveniently stay updated on correspondence, plans, and even fitness schedules. Smart clothing, however, has been less thoroughly explored and advertised to date. In fact, the 2015-2025 decade has been identified as the “Wearable Era”. This new realm of innovation takes the smart technology away from the wrist and integrates it into materials that cover all areas of the body, which results in a host of benefits. However, balanced with these benefits is the risk of diminished privacy given the clothing’s ability to track any of the wearer’s bodily metrics. As a result, it is worthwhile to consider whether a regulatory solution could offer reconciliation.
Smart clothing offers a wide range of benefits. For example, athletes are now able to wear clothing during training that monitor a variety of helpful metrics including cadence, ground contact time, pelvic rotation, and stride length. This results in a more efficient training routine since athletes can entrust their smart clothing with accurate monitoring, which allows them to solely focus on their activities. Similar benefits apply to non-athletes, too. A collaboration between Levi and Google created the Commuter Trucker Jacket, which is connected to Google’s Project Jacquard Platform. This allows users to access music, GPS, and calling applications on their mobile devices without actually touching their telephones. Another company has created a swimsuit that uses Artificial Intelligence to protect its user from UV protection by notifying the user when she has been in the sun for too long. Furthermore, smart clothing now presents a solution for the segments of the population who need close medical monitoring, but cannot do so on their own, such as the elderly or infants. As a result, the benefits span from convenience to safety. Additionally, there is also a reduction in healthcare costs because of efficient and affordable wearables.
While both technology and fashion enthusiasts may be justifiably excited at the prospect of these innovations, there is also room for concern. Given the recent changes in fashion and the fact that technology is quickly getting to a point where it can evade all of our personal data by getting it directly from our bodies, privacy laws and implications must be considered. This also raises the question of how data collection from smart clothing is, in fact, different from data collection from another technological medium. Are new or revised regulations even necessary, or should the privacy concern be a technology-neutral one? Furthermore, how does smart clothing fit with the consent and information collection and analysis (i.e. data mining) requirements under The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”)? Indeed, these questions have not yet been thoroughly researched and written about, which presents a ripe area for analysis.
However, before diving into a proposed approach to implement an effective solution to resolve the tension between privacy and smart clothing, it is worthwhile to consider its scope. While, a successful solution does not necessarily mean reinventing the wheel, certain regulatory adjustments need to be made given the high speed of technology and the unique invention of smart clothing. The key questions, therefore, are: should regulations surrounding smart clothing be technology neutral? What is the difference between smart clothing and smart phones? The next instalment in the series will focus on this.