Important considerations for athletes in the boom of wearable sensor technology

future sport

The growth of the wearable sensor technology market has outpaced its responsive regulatory reform. In light of this, our editorial partner, WFSGI, asks the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the exclusive representative over 2,300 active professional football players in the National Football League (NFL), to describe a series of best practices for athletes as the emergence of sensor technology infiltrates professional sports.

In the age of Big Data, the use of wearable sensor technology in professional sports has become commonplace. Whether such use is intended to maximise athletic performance, manage patient healthcare, or simply measure a player’s biometrics – there’s a sensor for that. However, with limited regulation within this relatively new industry, the ultimate impact on individual athletes participating in the use of this technology is harder to measure.

Existing sensor technology is capable of collecting a broad range of complex data from its wearers; exertion, acceleration, body temperature, heart and respiratory rate, sleep and hydration are all relatively basic data points in the current landscape. This data is in turn aggregated, stored, analysed, and shared almost instantaneously for use by coaches, medical staff and often the athletes themselves. Regardless of the type of information collected, the actual uses of this data warrant close consideration.

Putting aside whether a particular device is scientifically validated and accurate, there are numerous challenges presented by the use of this quickly evolving technology. The same biometric data that can be used to monitor load and mitigate injury could foreseeably be used by team personnel on a longitudinal basis to make employment decisions or used by the device manufacturer for research and commercial purposes. Additionally, personally identifiable information collected from participants can, in some instances, be paired with other available information to reveal the identity of the individual athlete.

To prevent such secondary or unintended uses of sensitive data, the following protections can and should be established.

Athletic teams should have policies in place that ensure the confidentiality, privacy, and security of any, and all, data/information collected via sensor devices. Specifically, teams should ensure that all those involved, directly or indirectly, in the use of sensor technology take appropriate steps to protect all personally identifiable information of the athlete-participants from unauthorised disclosure. Further, teams should consult with local counsel to determine whether or not their use of a device raises legal concerns.

Teams should carefully consider any contractual agreements with third parties governing the use of sensor devices and data collected. Data ownership, limitations on the use, sale and/or dissemination of the data, and provisions regarding the security and storage of the data, are all considerations that should be specifically addressed by contract. Lower tier agreements (e.g. agreements with sensor manufacturers) should also include terms and conditions intended to protect the rights of the participating athletes and enforce the team’s legal obligations in connection with the use of such technology.

Finally, teams should explain to their players the intended uses and anticipated benefits of the sensor technology and data collected. All participating players should have the ability to access the individual data/information collected.

Players and player advocates, such as unions, agents and even parents, should be informed of the risks that can accompany the use of certain sensor technology and urge that the protections discussed above are established. As a best practice, sensor end-users should always consult local legal counsel regarding data privacy and security concerns.

The positions set forth in this article are intended to address some of the current risks associated with the use of sensor technology and should be re-evaluated as the industry evolves.

To read the original article from our editorial partner, WFSGI, click here.

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