As wearable and analytics technology continues to explode, professional sports leagues, such as the NFL, have aggressively pushed into this field. (See Bloomberg). NFL teams insert tiny chips into players shoulder pads to track different metrics of their game. During the 2018-2019 NFL season, data was released that Ezekiel Elliot ran 21.27 miles per hour for a 44-yard run, his fastest of the season. The Dallas Cowboys are not alone as all 32 teams throughout the league can access this chip data which is collected via RFID tracking devices. Sports statistics geeks don’t stand a chance as this technology will track completion rates, double-team percentages, catches over expectation, and a myriad of other data points.
There are obvious questions and concerns about the use of this technology, and not just at the professional level. Wearables can be found at all levels of sports and athletic activities, including at colleges and high schools. At the professional level, the NFL is unique in that it allows teams to use the chip data during contract negotiations. However, players do not have full access to this information, unless specifically granted by individual teams. This is important since there is much debate over who truly owns this data. And, for a variety of reasons, players and athletes want to know where their information is stored, how it is stored, whether and how it might be used and disclosed, who has access to it, and what safeguards are in place to protect it. Major League Baseball and the Players Association added Attachment 56 to the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement to address some of these concerns. But, again, these and other questions are not unique to professional ball players.
With devices ranging from wearable monitors to clothing and equipment with embedded sensors, professional teams, colleges and universities, local school districts, and other sports and athletic institutions, as well as the companies that provide the wearables, can now collect massive amounts of data such as an athlete’s heart rate, glucose level, breathing, gait, strain, or fatigue. On the surface, this data may relate to an athlete’s performance and overall wellness, which may be somewhat apparent to onlookers without the aid of the device. However, alone or aggregated, the data may reveal more sensitive personal information relating to the athlete’s identity, location, or health status, information that cannot be obtained just by closely observing the individual. When organizations collect, use, share, or store this data, it creates certain privacy and security risks and numerous international, federal, and state data protection laws may apply. Any sports or athletic organization that develops a wearable device program, or has reason to believe that these devices are being used by coaches and others to collect similar data, should be mindful of these risks and regulatory issues.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of these laws:
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