Survey: Will Privacy Fears Kill The Apple Watch?

A survey conducted by AbilityNet to mark the fifth Tech4Good Awards shows that although most consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable devices such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit or Jawbone they are unlikely to use them because of fears about who will have access to their data. Almost 80% of people would be happy sharing personal health with doctors and 60% with the NHS. But only 10% would be happy sharing it with private health companies, and just 2% with private companies who collect and share the data as part of these new services.

The Apple Watch is available from todayThe survey was conducted in April 2015 and asked about the new generation of wearable devices and the personal health data they can collect, such as heart rate, body temperature, distances run, and so on. Would the potential health benefits of sharing that data outweigh people’s privacy concerns? Who would they feel comfortable sharing it? And who would they definitely not want to be able to access it?

The results showed that whilst half the sample could see potential benefits of sharing health data using these devices, the large majority would not share it with private companies. People said they would not trust them without guarantees of anonymity.

As one survey respondent said, “I would want to know that it was for my benefit - or for general health research - and not for private companies to try to sell me something." Another respondent voiced a common concern, about "how the data would be used e.g. would insurance companies use data to increase premiums for people with particular health conditions?"

Robin Christopherson is AbilityNet's Head of Digital InclusionRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

"We know that Apple sees the Apple Watch as a health device, and has done a lot to allay fears about data usage. The survey also shows that consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable technology such as the Apple Watch or FitBit Flex but, with so few people trusting private companies with their health data, the case for sharing personal health data still needs to be made.”

"The results show that it comes down to trust. People only want to share their personal data with people or organisations they feel they can trust such as doctors or the NHS - or if they know it will be used anonymously in” research for the public good. They don’t feel happy having private companies using their data for their own gain.

“Whilst the idea of smart, wearable, technology is becoming much more familiar and we are increasingly looking to technology to solve some of the problems of modern life, healthcare providers and private companies interested in data gathering need to provide greater reassurance to their customers before everyone will be happy to have their health tracked and shared with the cloud."

Tech4Good Awards has a digital health categoryThere is some good news for General Practitioners and the NHS however; the majority of people surveyed felt most confident about sharing digital health data with their doctor or with the NHS. 81% of respondents were happy to share their digital health data with their doctor and another 60% were also happy to share this information with the NHS.

In stark contrast to the trust put in doctors and the NHS to treat personal health data appropriately, only 12% of respondents felt happy to share their personal health data with private companies and as few as 2% felt comfortable sharing their personal health data with private companies that collect and share data with third parties.

There was particular concern about private companies that share data – which can include the makers of the devices, the owners of the networks used to share the data, the companies that make the apps that use the data and the many companies that trade in personal data.

A survey respondent said:

"I would not want anyone other than my doctor or close family seeing any medical data and would not want it passed on to anyone else without my explicit permission."

Another said:

"I would be most nervous of my health data being used by the wrong people e.g. being sold on to suppliers such as insurance companies. I am concerned I would be discriminated against because of the data I have shared."

AbilityNet's digital health survey was conducted ahead of the charity's Tech4Good Awards, which includes a digital health category, won last year by PEEK – an app for diagnosing cataracts.

Entries for this year’s Awards close at 5pm on Friday 8 May.

  1. AbilityNet conducted the survey in March/April 2015, there were 89 respondents who completed the questions anonymously.
  2. The survey was commissioned to inform the Tech4Good Awards new award category on Digital Health. The survey report is available on request.
  3. The Digital Health Award is open to any individual, business, charity, social enterprise or government organisation with a base in the UK.
  4. The judges are looking for inspiring examples of the way that computers and the internet can help improve people's health.
  5. Entries for Tech4Good Awards close on Friday 8 May at 5 pm.