We have all heard about the need for companies to develop “Bring Your Own Device” (or “BYOD”) policies and protocols because of the rapid proliferation handheld and mobile computing devices that are owned by the employee (or Officer, or CEO even). These policies have both benefits, as well as the potential for liability in the global context of international business.
So far, managers, lawyers, HR professionals, and the rest of us who worry about such things have been able to limit our concern with devices that actually look like computing devices. The smartphone, the tablet, the personal laptop; these are all things that those of us who want to manage the balance between a company’s assets, and its employee’s flexibility end up thinking about. However, this is about to change in a very subtle and almost invisible way. Now we have to worry about our employee’s clothes.
Back in 2009, QIO Systems, a leader in wearable electronics, announced the launch of its PANiQ wearable electronics system. PANiQ is the world’s first wearable digital control point, and it allows people to decide which devices they want to control from their interactive clothing. PANiQ’s customers include Cole Haan, Zoo York, KILLA, iQuantum, Celio, Beaucre, and Bailo. Zenga has also introduced a line of “smart clothes”. Now, this is obviously oriented on the idea that you shouldn’t have to take off your jacket to skip to the next song on your iPod. However, the underlying technology is much more powerful than just changing your morning commute music.
The foundational technology in play here is known as a “Wireless Personal Area Network” (or “WLAN”). We have all heard of the tech that drives a WLAN – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. What we haven’t heard much of is that this technology imbedded in clothing now makes the clothing itself a “device”. Even Google Glass isn’t as surreptitious as having a Bluetooth network enabled jacket.
While the vast majority of folks who wear smart clothes will not have nefarious intent, the simple fact that the clothing is now a device that is connecting to your corporate network will have implications for both your network security posture, as well as the privacy expectations of your employees. As noted in the article about BYOD policies, there are significant issues with employee monitoring.
Normally this is considered in the context of employee email. The next evolution is the context of location monitoring based on the movement of a smartphone or tablet through the wireless network connections of an office. But now with the advent of a WPAN, it is possible to monitor an employee’s movements based on the clothes they wear. If your network monitoring is set up to monitor the location of any “device” connected to the network, then it is very possible that such a network security posture will be directly at odds with the employee’s expectation of privacy. This is even more apparent in the EU, where the concept of privacy is a fundamental human right.
Needless to say, with the availability of items like Google Glass, and the wearable WPAN imbedded in your latest designer jacket, employers will need to rethink their BYOD policies, as well as their network security posture. Otherwise, they may, inadvertently, become Big Brother.