Wearable tech devices have generated privacy concerns – perhaps unnecessarily so –in the NBA as the league plans to resume its season in a controlled, campus-like environment at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
In the NBA’s 108-page health and safety protocols for resumption of the 2019-20 season, players have the option of wearing proximity devices which “will set off an audio alert when the person is within six feet of another person for more than five seconds,” and ring data monitors, which “may be relevant to the assessment of COVID-19 (e.g., heart rate, heart rate variability, etc.).”
The National Basketball Players Association called them Oura rings in its health summary, but the NBA did not name Oura as the brand in its document.
Some players on Twitter and agents expressed concerns about tracking and personal data.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma tweeted, “Looks like a tracking device.”
“Does Adam Silver wear one with us while we’re all in there,” Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie asked on Twitter.
To be clear though, these devices are optional – an issue that has been collectively bargained between the league and the NBPA.
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Also, the league says it is not using these as tracking devices or performance measurements. They are for health only. (And let’s not forget that Kuzma’s mobile phone data could mine to determine where he was when he sent that tweet.)
In the health and safety document, the NBA says of the wearable ring device:
- Voluntary use: A team may request a player to use in practice (or otherwise not in a game) on a voluntary basis the ring. A player may decline to use (or discontinue use of) the ring at any time.
- Data access: A player will have full access to all data collected on him from the ring. Team staff will not have access to data collected from the ring, except for in the circumstance identified above in which the ring’s illness probability score indicates that a player may be at higher risk for, or is showing signs of, a possible coronavirus infection.
- Data use: The ring may not be used in games, and no player data collected from the ring worn at the request of a team will not be made available to the public in any way, used for any commercial purpose, or considered, used, discussed, or referenced in negotiations involving a future player contract or other player contract transaction involving the player.
The Oura retails for $299-$399 and also measures body temperature and sleeping habits. Twitter user @katgleason posted two photos – one of her Oura ring data when she had COVID-19 in March and one yesterday recovered from COVID-19. The data from the Oura ring in March indicated her resting heart rate was too high, her heart rate variability needed attention and overall she needed to “pay attention” to her health.
The West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and WVU Medicine teamed up with Oura to create a digital platform that uses “artificial intelligence-uided models to forecast and predict the onset of COVID-19 related symptoms (e.g. fevers, coughing, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and others) three days in advance with over 90 percent accuracy,” according to WVU Medicine’s web site.
Oura is also working with the University of California San Francisco to provide more than 2,000 healthcare workers with the ring to further “identify patterns of onset, progression, and recovery, for COVID-19.”
The rings do not diagnosis illnesses, and players will be tested regularly for COVID-19.
There are skeptics of wearable devices. Ryan Calo, an associate professor of law at the University of Washington, looks at these high-tech privacy issues through a different lens.
“The devil is in the details, but I imagine privacy is the least of their worries,” he said via email. “Such technological solutions are unlikely to work for a variety of reasons, and usually amount to an excuse to subject people to risk for economic gain.”
It’s not known if Silver will wear one, but Dinwiddie on Twitter said he planned to give his ring to a healthcare worker.