Wearable technology requires standards to ensure privacy, security and usability

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The Open Mobile Alliance is starting work on service standards and interfaces for wearable devices, write Robert Bergman and Alan Hameed

Robert Bergman and Alan Hameed: personal and regulatory
concerns about wearable technology will have to be addressed,
including privacy and security 

A brief history of wearable technology

Other than spectacles which were invented in the 13th century by Chinese and Japanese scientists, the first real description of wearable technology came in 1665 from the English scientist Robert Hooke, who wrote: “In respect of the senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with instruments, and as it were, the adding of artificial organs to the natural ... and as glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so ’tis not improbable, but that there may be found many mechanical inventions to improve our other senses of hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.”

A century after these observations by Hooke, the pocket watch arrived in 1762. Then followed the wrist watch in 1907, the first head-mounted displays in the 1960s, the first digital watch and hearing aids in 1972, unconnected multi-function digital watches in the 1990s.

And today there are sometimes connected fitness oriented devices such as fitness bands and always-connected smart watches.

Wearable technology is not new. What is new is the recent interest and plethora of one-off devices. The market is expected to have a massive impact on human efficiency, business and the wider culture — but standards will be needed before this goal can be realised.

The Open Mobile Alliance is a standards body that has successfully developed open standards for the mobile phone industry, with a strong focus on standardised APIs, data formats and end-to-end application protocols.

The OMA has successfully developed standards for location based services and device management, and has ongoing work on the generic open terminal API framework for interfacing mobile terminals and sensors and exposing the data through terminal APIs including the web environment — using existing browsers — directly to internet browsers.

The OMA will be kicking off an effort to investigate the development of open API and service standards for wearable devices.

This nascent market for wearable technology is clearly user-centric by definition. As such, wearable electronics must be integrated into the user’s daily life, learn from the person’s usage patterns, foster a vibrant application ecosystem tailored to wearable technology, and have the aesthetic appeal of trendy fashions.

In addition, since the end user’s data will now be collected and uploaded directly to the internet, a number of personal and regulatory concerns will have to be addressed.

Privacy: While wearable technology has the potential of delivering value to both consumers and governments, there remain serious concerns about privacy.

Many studies indicate the issue as a major barrier to adoption. Of course by their very design, many of the wearable devices can capture a great deal of personal data about the wearer. The question then becomes, who owns the personal data you generate with the wearable device — you or the business that’s compiling, interpreting and storing that information?

For example, with devices such as Google Glass, hackers could potentially be able to see and hear everything the wearer does.

Fitness bands that monitor and capture information about movement using GPS can provide a malicious user with details about our daily routines and patterns.

Security: As sensors — and not just computing platforms — wearable devices bring a new set of threats, including allowing malicious software an unparalleled look into victims’ lives.

While stealing personal financial information is certainly bad enough, manipulating a heart monitor could be much worse.

Control: Users need to have full control over the data generated — to be able to grant and revoke access to application and services.

Above all the user must have absolute control over what type of information can be captured and shared with applications and third parties.

From the end user’s perspective, the ultimate value of these devices will come from the integration of data that is captured from sensors and the services that are provided. The integration should take place close to the device on a platform such as a mobile phone.

The technology needs to perform its primary function reliably, seamlessly integrate with the user’s lifestyle and provide valuable insights that would not have occurred without the product.

Most market analysts agree that the current state of the wearable technology market is fragmented — fragmented by technology, geography, form factor, application area and software architecture.

In order to integrate information from multiple sensors and derive real value for the end user, there will have to be a concerted industry effort to standardise data formats as well as service level interfaces or APIs — with a focus on device APIs.

Robert Bergman, CEO and president of Southwest Management Technology, recently retired from 28 years as a strategic planner for Intel, which he represented at the GSM Association, the OMA board of directors, OneM2M and IEEE. Alan Hameed is director of the wireless development division of Fujitsu Network Communications.