Technology and Privacy: An Embodied Paradox

  • December 13, 2019
  • Wendy Lund, RN, BScN, MSc in Mindfulness Studies

Technology and Privacy: An Embodied Paradox

Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking the peeping Tom to install your blinds.” – John Perry Barlow

Our thirst for technology to do more, be more and solve more is unquenchable. So too is our desire to have our privacy protected. Is it possible to have both exist in tandem?

As in-house legal experts, the arena of privacy is an area you likely have spent a lot of time negotiating. What may feel new is the increasing challenge in navigating how to ensure compliance with privacy requirements in this age of digital capitalism (or capitalism through the internet) specifically as it relates to employee health and wellness.

Workplace Wellness and Technology

In recent years, organizations have become increasingly interested—and increasingly invested—in employee health and wellness programs. Many are turning to health care apps to support or modernize their wellness strategies.

Their enthusiasm for incorporating technology into the workplace to support, enhance and sustain all dimensions of health and wellbeing deserves acknowledgement. But what makes me nervous is that this enthusiasm sometimes eclipses their understanding of the vulnerabilities and risks that come when you collect data.

When working with companies that are considering a wellness app, I dedicate time to understanding their implementation evaluation. I ask how the app will benefit their wellness strategy, and most excitedly share the sales pitch that they were given about the potential uses for employees, and how it can be customized to fit their operations and systems.

However, things typically get quiet when I inquire about how the sensitive data these apps collect will be protected and used. What type of aggregate data is collected, shared and sold as a result of adopting this software? Has a breach of data ever occurred with that vendor and what are the potential risks? Have they mapped the health care app strategically to their values and strategic goals? Have they aligned each function of the app to a specific and measurable goal for evaluation a year from now?

Either they either simply do not know (often they have not referred to their in-house counsel) or they believe the vendor has already taken care of the privacy “stuff.”

Be Sure about the “Stuff”

It is exactly this “stuff” that we should be equally as enthusiastic about knowing. As the evolving regulations show, none of us (including governments and the law) really know how to ensure privacy in this economic boom of digital capitalism.

As Ari Ezra Waldman, Professor of Law, points out, part of the complexities occurs because “privacy law is being defined, negotiated, and practiced by an army of third-party vendors.” The responsibility for meeting legal obligations is being outsourced to third-party technology vendors.

So What? Now What?

Bring focus to your privacy practices. Spend a lot of time asking the “So what? Now what?” question before you embark on digitalizing your own personal wellness or that of your company.

Remember that health behaviours and outcomes do not necessarily follow awareness. Just because there’s an app for it (mood, thoughts, gratitude) does not mean you will be inherently better for tracking it. Fit bit or guilt bit? It’s not the technology; it’s your relationship to it that matters.

And if aggregate data you own as a result of any digitalization in your wellness approach reveals significant mental or physical issues among your employees, now what? What are the ethical and fiscal responsibilities of helping people track wellness (or unwellness)?

Play that tape to the end and consider proactively the immediate and future implications for the organization and where the responsibilities lie.

Wendy Lund is CEO/Founder of Wellth Management (, a firm that works collaboratively with organizations to help foster psychological safety and wellbeing in the workplace. With more than three decades of experience, Wendy understands the biology of stress and resiliency. Her vision is to help others redefine wealth in their workplace and lives, which she shares through workshops and in print.