Breadcrumbs

Who should own your personal data?

25 October 2018

Dr Judy Bowen.

New research on wearable technology in high-risk work environments to help make workers safer has been given a million dollar funding boost.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has awarded the grant to Dr Judy Bowen and her team, Associate Professor Annika Hinze and Professor Rangi Matamua, at the University of Waikato.

There has been a boom in fitness and personal trackers as well as smartwatches that gather personal metrics such as heart-rate, activity levels and hydration levels. Add in environmental factors such as temperature and location, and you may be able to support worker safety by identifying levels of fatigue or unsafe work conditions. But Dr Bowen says there is little scientific evidence to show that the proposed technology can be used in this way in practice. “We did some experimentation with various commercial solutions being offered to businesses, which were promising great things. When we experimented with them in real-world work situations we found they didn’t always  live up to some of their promises.”

The research will also look at the impact of personal data collection and its cultural value (living tāonga), commercial value (ownership) and ethical value (management use). Dr Bowen says the big problem they’re looking at is the invasion of privacy involved. She is suggesting the  radical idea that workers be able to own their data themselves, and even share it with family, whanau, iwi and communities to help keep them safe. “Saying to workers we want to monitor your sleep when you’re at home and not on the job. Then what happens to the data, and who does it belong to? What if a business gets some data that suggests a worker is fatigued? Do they send them home, and do they keep paying them? And because someone is fatigued it is not a one-on-one correlation that they will cause an accident, so we will also consider where the balance lies.”

Work-related accidents and injuries currently cost New Zealand more than $3 billion annually. Dr Bowen has already done several years of research with forestry workers - a sector in which 30 workers have been killed on the job since 2013. Some of the upcoming research will involve them again. Once the researchers have decided what data they want to gather, they will turn sensors into wearable things. Dr Bowen says it is know that heart rate variability (HRV - which is variation among the intervals between your heartbeats) can be a good indicator of fatigue. “Using light-based wrist measurements is  fairly  inaccurate. It works better with chest straps, but our research with forestry workers has shown they are uncomfortable if you wear them all day and so workers  have a tendency to take them off or move them, as they are a bit irritating when you’re doing hard physical work. So we’re looking at putting that technology into a compression shirt, just something you can wear. Then we’ll see what other kinds of other sensors we can put in there.”

PhD student Chris Griffiths was involved in the earlier forestry worker research. He died at the beginning of this  year after a short illness. He was awarded a posthumous MPhil , just before the new funding was announced. Dr Bowen says he remained actively involved in the research until his death, and the grant means that areas of the work he was focussing on will continue.


Related stories

Dr Jessica Pasisi

Research on climate change aims to give voice to Pacific people

A University of Waikato researcher says some of the current colonial representations of climate change…

University of Waikato Radiocarbon dating

Waikato researcher re-writing history of ancient human movement across the Pacific

A University of Waikato researcher is re-writing the history of ancient human movement across the…

2020 New Professors

University of Waikato announces new professorial appointments

Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley has recently acknowledged new Professors and Associate Professors of the University.

Maui Hudson

Indigenous genomics under the microscope at SING conference

The University of Waikato is hosted the first ever SING Indigenous Genomics Conference as international…

It's time to care about our insects

Dr Chrissie Painting, along with 70 other researchers from 21 countries, are calling for immediate…

Imagimation and the University working together to provide practical education opportunities

Imagimation, a social enterprise based in Hamilton, has created a learning working environment for interns…

University education researchers receive over $822,000 in research funding

Three research projects involving Waikato researchers have received funding from the Teaching and Learning Research…

Professor Bryony James appointed new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at Waikato

Professor Bryony James has been appointed as the new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at the University…

Michèle Prinsep

Waikato academic ranked in top one per cent in the world for research citations

A University of Waikato researcher who identifies compounds in marine species which could be used…

Emry Daniels

Recognition for Pacific student who quit his day job for a design degree

Video gaming, tech gadgets and te reo Māori inspired 41-year-old Emry Daniels to quit his…

Professor Troy Baisden

Professor named new president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS)

Professor Troy Baisden, who is based in School of Science at the University of Waikato,…

Sharna McCleary

Science student uses mushrooms to help clean up Whakatāne canal

Oyster mushrooms are helping to clean up an historically contaminated timber processing site in Whakatāne,…