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Emerging technology, privacy, and your business

Google Glass has sparked a wide ranging discussion about the product’s potential  impact on privacy. The conversations I have seen have mostly focused on the impact to the existence of privacy in our technology-dependent world, but I have seen only limited discussion on the impact to a business. It would be nice for businesses to be proactive in considering policies for emerging  technology instead of reacting as things evolve.

Let’s use Google Glass as an example to see some potential benefits and risks of an emerging technology.

There are business benefits…

Having information at your fingertips s always a benefit in a business situation. Let’s look ahead a few years and project what a technology like Google Glass may be able to offer:

  • Remembering names may never be a problem again with facial recognition automatically identifying a person and presenting their name. You could automatically retrieve a customer’s recent purchases along with suggestions for potential add-on accessories and services for up-selling. Presenting information on family, friends, hobbies, etc. might be useful in developing a relationship.
  • In a health care environment you could see personal health information just by looking at someone. With advanced integration to diagnostic devices you could be presented vital signs without asking and as a patient explains their symptoms an app, using voice recognition, may even be able to present potential diagnosis.
  • At a retail  checkout counter you could do away with a scanner and have purchases rung up by just having someone look at the products with the items going directly into the Point-Of-Sale system.
  • Manager’s could be immediately alerted to situations that their team is encountering where they could use assistance. The manager could then turn on the video feed, quietly observe what is going on,  and send messages providing guidance to their team member.

I am sure your imagination is running wild right now. Any customer or employee experience could potentially be enhanced or supported by the potentials this technology presents.

…but at what privacy risk?

A the top of this post I mentioned the privacy discussion surrounding Google Glass. Let’s look at the the business privacy concerns that may arise from the projected applications of that technology listed above.

  • Being welcomed by name when someone is a return visitor to any business is certainly a way to build a relationship. Conversely if it is someone’s first time visiting then being welcomed by name may start to cause the “creepiness factor” to rise. The same is true for any visitor if too much information about their preferences, buying history, and social circle is referenced if they have not personally shared that information with the person they are speaking with. Imagine walking in to a store in a city you are visiting that is affiliated with a store you usually visit at home and you’re greeted as if you had been there just last week! Also, keep in mind the reactions to the British Airways Know Me program.
  • Anything that reduces my time at the doctor’s office is a welcome innovation especially when it improves the quality of the diagnosis received. There has been substantial discussion about electronic health care records, but integrating diagnostic devices and accessing technology that diagnose a patient will add to the complexity of that discussion. Wireless security, role-based data access, and encryption of the data are just some of things that need to be considered. Also, with diagnostic information being immediately available electronically there is wealth of information for researchers. Special attention will need to be paid to de-identification of  personal health information especially when kept within the same computer system as appointment information.
  • While easing and speeding the checkout process is certainly positive, if a cashier can record video or take pictures there is risk that customer’s credit cards and security codes could easily be stolen and maybe even used illegally before the customer leaves the store.
  • A manager remotely assisting a team member in the midst of a situation is a wonderful concept. However, use of video could easily be considered monitoring of employees causing legal problems in many jurisdictions around the world. If audio accompanies the video there may be an issue with wiretap laws in the US.

Preparing for new technology

Any technology brings new opportunities for a business to become more efficient and effective. The technology,especially one which is consumer targeted, must be applied in a controlled manner, preventing a casual, unplanned introduction to  your environment.

Getting in front of an emerging technology by establishing a cross-functional team to review the technology, brainstorm potential applications, define initial policies, and then raise awareness within your organization can prevent unwanted privacy incidents.