Wearing thin: Is wearable tech an ethical nightmare for PR and comms professionals?
The CIPR hosted a debate last week at the House of Commons on the implications of wearable technology and how such devices raise ethical concerns around the potential use of the data they provide for marketing and PR purposes. However, these devices pose the same kind of challenges as many current technologies do, argues Aspectus PR’s Garry Dix.
Last Monday saw the CIPR ask whether or not ‘wearable technology is an ethical nightmare for PR, marketing and communication professionals’, with two teams of speakers arguing for and against the motion.
Set in the debating rooms of the House of Commons, the initial excitement of machine guns and metal detectors preceded an equally lively debate on how public relations might approach this next generation of technology.
Starting with the UK arrival of Google Glass (and the guiltily enjoyable moniker of ‘Glassholes’ for users), the debate commenced by stating that wearables are no longer a minority subject. The smart watch war is said to have reached levels akin to that in the mobile phone space, while health bands are selling by the ton.
But while the wearable sector is now a legitimate force in the tech industry, curiously there has yet to be any closer examination of the technology’s PR and marketing potential. Nevertheless, these sectors stand to be significantly changed by the widespread implementation of wearable communications technology.
Arguing that the PR wearables nightmare is soon to be very real was Stephen Davies , the founder of Substantial, Bionicly and Digital Health, alongside Neville Hobson of NevilleHobson.com. Countering their argument was Steve Waddington, president of the CIPR, and Claire Walker, Chief Executive of Firefly Communications.
The speeches were well researched, with seemingly irrefutable points swiftly countered, leaving the audience split fairly equally by the time the vote was cast. The motion was opposed 55 to 28 (i.e. not a nightmare), but somehow we didn’t leave feeling completely certain either way.
Personally, I declined the motion; to me it seems that although ethical quandaries may arise with the adoption of wearable tech, this will be no different to the application of ethics to email lists, blogs, Twitter or smartphones – all technologies that have been adopted widely. With each iteration of new technology, a rogue faction will inevitably try to use them for unscrupulous means, and this is by no means limited to PR and comms.
A statement from the floor session after the main speeches said that the motion will not apply to ‘highly skilled PR professionals’, which struck a chord with many in the room. If PR, marketing and communication professionals act just like that – professional – then wearable tech shouldn’t pose any additional problems over and above that of the previous generations of technology. After all, why record someone sneakily with your Google Glass if you can just stick a dictaphone in your pocket?
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