Privacy Trumps Data

August 1, 2017

Last week, Major League Baseball announced that as part of a collective bargaining agreement with players, restrictions will be placed on the use of wearable devices to collect data, citing privacy concerns.

According to SportTechie, the Zephyr BioHarness and the Motus elbow sleeve, two of the items in question, had been permitted for use last year. Last summer, Neil Walker, a second baseman for the New York Mets, said he had been concerned about the data being used against players.

“We understand that the technology is for our betterment,” Walker said. “There’s a pretty mutual feeling that it’s somewhat of an invasion of our privacy, and guys don’t want it to be used against them, say, in arbitration or free agency or whatever the case may be. We feel like we should obviously have a choice.”

Under the new agreement, players must be able to choose whether to wear the devices, and not face consequences for refusing. Any data collected must only be for the sake of improving players' performance, and be only made available to the players in question and certain employees, such as the manager. Any devices that collect data must be approved by a joint committee on wearable technology.

Curtis Granderson, outfielder for the Mets and part of the Players' Association leadership, had expressed concern about how the data might be used.

“Is it going to be monetized, where viewers at home might get a chance to see what your heart rate is in the ninth inning against a closer?” Granderson said. “Obviously that’s something that people will definitely be interested in, but if there’s some monetary stuff involved, is that going to be a benefit for the owners and not us? There are a lot of moving parts to it.”

Some players find the data-monitoring devices useful, such as for monitoring how tired they are, and believe that the rules will prevent the data from being used against them.

“If everything’s done transparently,” Adam Ottavino, a reliever for the Colorado Rockies, said, “I think a lot of the wearables could be in play.”

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