Apple Watch Privacy Questioned by Connecticut AG

Privacy concerns about Apple's new smartwatch have spurred Connecticut's state attorney general to send a letter to the company asking to talk about how the device will address consumer privacy.

Apple Watch

The upcoming Apple Watch is being lauded as the latest smartwatch aimed at consumers, but before it arrives on store shelves, Connecticut's attorney general, George Jepsen, wants to make sure that the new device doesn't intrude on personal privacy.

To express his concerns, Jepsen sent a two-page letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook on Sept. 12, asking Cook more about how personal information and privacy protections will be implemented and enforced on the device and on any servers that store or handle the information.

Because the Apple Watch is not yet ready to be sold by Apple, Jepsen wrote that this is an appropriate time to discuss these issues and ask Apple to make any needed changes so that privacy issues won't be a problem when the device eventually hits the market.

"I applaud the use of technology to encourage and facilitate personal health," Jepsen wrote in his letter to Cook. "I am also encouraged by Apple's representations that personal health information will be encrypted on the Apple Watch and that users will decide which applications gain access to their health data. However, questions remain concerning how privacy protections will be implemented and enforced."

Jepsen wrote that he would like to meet with Apple officials to discuss his privacy concerns about the future product. Among the issues that Jepsen would like to explore are whether Apple will allow consumers to store personal and health information on Apple Watch itself and/or on its servers, and how that information will be safeguarded. He also wants to discuss how Apple will review application privacy policies to ensure that users' health information is safeguarded.

In addition, Jepsen wants to find out about the kinds of information that the Apple Watch and its applications will collect from users, and how Apple and application developers will obtain consent to collect and share such information from these individuals, he wrote. He also wants more details on how Apple intends to monitor and enforce applications' compliance with its guidelines concerning users' health information.

In a phone interview with eWEEK on Sept. 16, Jepsen said he is asking these questions of Apple to better protect residents of his state before the Apple Watch is ever released for sale.

"My office has been a national leader on issues of privacy," he said. "What I've found coming into office is that once a product is launched, it's of course out of the barn and it's much harder to have a discussion to talk about privacy concerns."

Jepsen said he's taken similar actions in the past, including discussing with Google potential privacy concerns his office had with the Google Glass eyewear-mounted computer devices. Those conversations "had great dialogue, and Google made changes to Glass-related privacy policies that were beneficial to consumers," he said. "We're hoping that Apple will see it in those terms."

Jepsen said he is an Apple product user and that his letter is not a negative reflection on the company and its conduct, but instead "is about protecting consumer privacy in a reasonable way. Protecting the broad public interest is one of the things that state attorneys general do."

Apple has gotten back to Jepsen's office, but no meetings have yet been established, he said.

The long-awaited Apple Watch was announced at Apple's new-product event on Sept. 9, along with new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The Apple Watch screen is controlled by touch, by arm movement and by the "crown"—the circular wheel button on the side that traditionally was used to wind a watch. The watch, which must be used with an iPhone to get full usability, can do everything a smartphone or laptop can do, just on a smaller scale. It can also do things those other devices cannot do, such as track steps, heart rate, blood pressure and other health-related metrics. The device will start at $349 and become available in early 2015.