The (Un)Controllable Rise of Smart Clothing

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.

One of Wearable Technology’s Most Prominent Homes: Toronto

Toronto is quickly becoming a leader in the wearable technology industry, and is home to several innovative start-ups that have been very active in this field. In particular, there has been a focus on using wearable technology in relation to fitness and medical needs, with biometrics being a primary indicator. 

 To support this activity, Toronto has seen a rise in several organizations aimed at raising awareness regarding the conversation around wearable technology. FashionTech Toronto, for example, is “a platform to connect innovators and leaders in the fashion and tech fields”, and hosts multiple meet-ups to facilitate this interaction. Electric Runway, which originally started as “a wearable technology runway show curated for the Maker Festival in Toronto” has now grown into an international brand and expanded to hosting speaking engagements, consulting, and creating public engagement through their considerable online presence.  We Are Wearables also has an active Toronto chapter and has a mission to “foster adoption and facilitate innovation in wearable tech by providing a platform for the entrepreneurs, start-ups and organizations who are already making this happen and a place for those new to the space to be inspired to take action.” 


As such, it is no surprise that Toronto start-ups have recognized the flourishing wearable technology community and have begun creating innovative designs in response. Blue Block Glasses serves as a prime example. The Toronto-based start-up gave Team Canada’s freestyle skiers 30 pairs of Somnitude eyewear before the team went to PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The company recognized that athletes need a significant amount of rest in order to perform well; however, the common presence of blue light in daily lives (from phones and other screens) has the potential to significantly impact sleeping patterns. If the glasses are worn a few hours before bed, it helps supress melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleep. Due to the delay that is caused by the suppression, there is a shift in the circadian phase of sleep to later in the night, which allows athletes (or others with similar lifestyles) to overcome jetlag much more quickly. 

 Nymi is another disruptive Toronto start-up, being the first wearable technology to actually identify users by using their heartbeat. This identification allows their heartbeat to act as a passcode to connect to computers, phones, smart office technology, and possibly driverless cars in the future. Furthermore, the start-up partnered with MasterCard and is working on a method of completing a credit card transaction using the heartbeat indicator. 

Of course, all of these applications have legal implications in relation to intellectual property, privacy, etc. and have to comply with related regulations. So, the question becomes, are our regulations well-equipped to deal with this new wave of technology, or do we need to think more critically about updates?