Are Smartwatches Safe to Wear – Health and Privacy concerns

Are Smartwatches Safe to Wear – Health and Privacy concerns

Many have concerns and are asking if smartwatches are safe to wear? The short answer is Yes.

Some have concerns about health issues and others about privacy and other safety aspects. I will address each of these in turn.

Health issues are usually around the signals the device is emitting like Bluetooth, WiFi, 4G. Smartphones have been using these for a long time and the topic has been researched yet no alarming evidence has been found.

The concern around privacy is usually around the devices containing sensitive data and not having proper security features. This is a valid concern, but the data on the devices is limited but it is something that makes sense to pay attention to.

Another concern is around safety issues like driving and being distracted by the smartwatch. This is a concern that comes up always when there is new technology but as with all gadgets you need to be sensible while driving.

Health concerns regarding smartwatches and fitness trackers

Wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers use transmitters to send radio frequency signals to communicate with different devices or networks. Like smartphones, wearables which use WiFi, Bluetooth or 4G emit radiation and have to pass FCC standards to ensure their safety.

The type of radiation emitted by wireless devices like smartwatches is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This includes visible light, infrared radiation, UV and x-rays. Electromagnetic radiation can be thought of as photons of different energy levels. The shorter the wavelength is the more energy the signal carries per photon.

DNA mutations can only be caused if enough energy is carried by the signal and only gamma-ray, X-ray and UV photons have this kind of energy. That is the known mechanism by which radiation increases cancer risk. Smartwatches and Smartphones and other wireless devices emit radiation but that radiation lacks the energy to alter DNA.

The FDA reassures us that there is nothing to be concerned about:

The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.

Over the past 15 years, scientists have conducted hundreds of studies looking at the biological effects of the radiofrequency energy emitted by cell phones. While some researchers have reported biological changes associated with RF energy, these studies have failed to be replicated. The majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to radiofrequency from a cell phone and health problems.

There have been health scares in the news reporting of studies stating WiFi signals or Cellphone signals being a risk but as the above statement from the FDA suggests the information behind those studies has not been confirmed and the opposite is the consensus in the confirmed studies.  In fact, health scares that are not backed with proper studies can be harmful since it distracts the public from more important cancer risks such as smoking or viruses like HPV. There are parents who refuse to get their daughters vaccinated against HPV which is causing cases of cervical cancer.

If this put your mind at ease perhaps you want to read more about the health benefits smartwatches provide and have a look at my smartwatch buyers guide:

Privacy concerns regarding smartwatches and fitness trackers

Some have privacy and security-related concerns around smartwatches and for good reasons. For example the Norwegian Consumer
Council (NCC) has analyzed consumer rights in four smartwatches for children and concluded that three out of the four watches that were
analyzed fell short in security and privacy aspects.

The tested devices are called Gator 2, Tinitell, Viksfjord, and Xplora. These cellular smartwatches for children allow parents to use an app on their smartphones to keep in touch with and track the location of their children. The main purpose of these devices is to give parents peace of mind while their children play freely outside.

Some critical security flaws were found in this study.

Two of the devices have flaws which could allow a potential attacker to take control of the apps, thus gaining access to children’s real-time and historical location and personal details, as well as even enabling them to contact the children directly, all without the parents’ knowledge.

Several of the devices transmit personal data to servers located in North America and East Asia, in some cases without any encryption in place.

One of the watches also functions as a listening device, allowing the parent or a stranger with some technical knowledge to audio monitor the surroundings of the child.

Kaspersky did an analysis on how easy it is to spy on smartwatch users and concluded that you don’t need to be overly worried about it:

Should you worry about being spied on by someone? Only if that someone has a strong motivation to spy on you, specifically. The average cybercrook is after easy pickings and won’t have much to gain.

Since smartwatches contain more and more data some manufacturers like Samsung are working towards securing these devices similarly as smartphones with security features like passcodes and remote wiping possibilities.

There have been recent reports like this one by TechBeacon about tests to many smartwatch brands reporting that all have some vulnerabilities but they don’t amount to a significant privacy breach currently but this is something that should be paid more attention to. If consumers don’t demand security features then manufacturers might not pay enough attention to the topic.

Safety concerns regarding smartwatches and fitness trackers

I recently read something about smartwatches being a safety hazard while driving the car. Sure that could be the case if the driver pays too much attention to notifications popping up on the smartwatch instead of paying attention to driving and the surroundings. The story went something around the lines of the driver getting a message from his boss that he is fired and the driver getting upset and causing an accident.

Texting with your phone while driving is a bad idea and reading texts on your smartwatch is likewise a bad idea.

So please be responsible while using your smart devices in traffic or while doing other activities that require your attention.

I don’t think smartwatches are a safety hazard any more than smartphones if used properly.

There are use cases for smartwatches that can, in fact, be life-saving. Some smartwatches come with SOS features (check my article on smartwatch benefits). Another aspect is the heart rate monitoring and blood pressure measurement features that can be used in very positive ways to bring early attention to possible heart-related diseases.

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