House of Commons debate - is wearable tech an ethical nightmare for PR industry?

The existing ethical frameworks within the PR and communications are"efficient" enough to cover advances in wearable tech, CIPR president Stephen Waddington said during a House of Commons debate last night.

Speaking at the event, which tackled the topic of wearable technology and its implications for the PR and communications industry, Waddington admitted the PR industry was late to embrace new technology in the past, and called for the market to not make the same mistake by ignoring the opportunities within wearable tech.

He deemed the existing ethical frameworks within communications and PR robust enough to cover the advances within wearable technology, adding that it is simply a “new iteration” of technology.

“The public relations business has been slow to adopt new technology in the past. We were late to recognise the opportunity offered by blogs, branded forms of media, and most recently social networks. It has been an awakening for our business.

“I would urge practitioners tonight not to miss the huge opportunity that wearable technology offers as a force for good, and means to advance professional practice.”

Wearable technology provides “significant potential” for the relationship between people and organisations and doesn’t need any extra ethical frameworks to police it, according to Waddington

“We must view wearable technology simply as a new iteration of technology, and that our existing ethical frameworks provide adequate protection,” he continued.

The fact that Britons are recorded daily by CCTV cameras – something they accept as a norm –without the need to reinvent ethical frameworks proves that the function of wearables like Google Glass is no different Waddington said. “My point is that this technology has been available since the 1980s… faster cars don’t demand a rewrite of the Highway Code.”

Conversely, Stephen Davies, founder of digital health agency Substantial Health, argued that the industry as it stands hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to ethical implications, with products like Fitbit and Nike Fuelband only collecting basic biometric data, something that he warned will change considerably.

“Even now we’re beginning to witness a backlash against some wearable technologies, most notably Google’s head-mounted wearable Google Glass. Glass is increasingly being used in a business setting. Virgin Atlantic for example has been trialling it in the upper class lounge where staff can discover a variety of information about the customer before they have even spoken.

“I ask you, what if the same technology was applied to something like a contact lens with all of the functionality of Glass but invisible to everyone but the wearer?”

He went on to discuss the advancement of ‘implantables’, microchips injected into the body to enhance senses such as hearing or memory, and questioned the ethical implications for the communications industry of being able to hear other people’s conversations.

Davies also warned that the personalised data revolution will “eradicate the need for public relations in its current form” as algorithms and smart advertising cater to an individual’s need.

“The coming years are not only going to be an ethical nightmare for the profession, but one where the industry questions its place in the world,” he concluded.

Natalie Mortimer

I look after all things creative.

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