The worries started quietly when fitness trackers became ubiquitous, but now that smartwatches are becoming more popular, consumers are asking: are smartwatches safe to wear? It’s one thing to wear a BlueTooth-emitting device, but smartwatches also use wifi and GPS and even 3G wireless signals on your body for the better part of the day. Is it safe to wear so much technology on your wrist?
It’s a legitimate concern, and it’s not exactly a new one. New technology has always given people pause and made the masses wonder if the latest and greatest is actually harming them silently.
Whether it’s television waves, alleged radiation from microwave ovens, cancer-causing signals from mobile phones, or whatever, there’s a well established history of fear of the new and, frankly, invisible.
However, as with most technology, a lot of the concerns surrounding the safety of smartwatches are, alas, much ado about nothing.
THE 3G’S THE THING
Let’s be clear: the main concern when it comes to smartwatches and safety revolves around the 3G signals that some use.
Not all smartwatches utilise this technology — the Apple Watch, for example, does not, nor does Pebble or any type of fitness tracker. If your smartwatch depends on a connection with your smartphone for full functionality, then this doesn’t concern you. However, if your smartwatch does come with a data plan or use a SIM card, then you may be very interested in the following paragraph.
Yes, there has been some chatter about the link between cellular 3G signals and cancer. Recently, CNET ran a story about the possible links between cell phone use and certain types of cancer.
About a year earlier, The New York Times ran this uncharacteristically speculative piece about mobile phones and tumours, then backpedalled slightly but not fully a few days later.
And just a few months before that, Mercola.com ran this somewhat alarmist article, “Heavy Cell Phone Use Can Quadruple Your Risk of Deadly Brain Cancer” (as opposed to, presumably, the non-deadly forms of the disease, we can only infer). It all sounds quite scary, but of course, there’s another side to the story.
Immediately after The New York Times article was printed, publications everywhere denounced the newspaper for being sensationalist, for making claims that were not fully accurate, and for speculating wildly. These included The Washington Post and Business Insider, among others.
There’s also the factor of Dr. Mercola himself, the expert quoted in The New York Times article and the doctor whose site one of the warning write-ups was published.
He’s one of the key players harping on the tech-cancer link, especially as it relates to smartphones and now smartwatches, and the fact that he’s a medical doctor may seem to lend a great deal of ethos to his claims.
However, Dr. Mercola is a somewhat controversial figure. He is opposed to most vaccines, for example, and has been known to give advice about diet and eating that goes against views held by nutritionists and medical professionals.
His critics call him a proponent of pseudo-science and an advocate of alarmist viewpoints that are not grounded in research. His claims may be food for thought, but as many other doctors and scientists are quick to say, they should not dominate the public’s thoughts.
Another aspect of safety with smartwatches that should be mentioned (and has absolutely nothing to do with human health) is that of privacy and security. This article on AppWatchWear from October 2015 brings up some of these concerns. Specifically, most smartwatch screens do not lock, and the level of encryption is relatively weak, allowing hackers to potentially access a user’s sensitive data.
However, it’s crucial to remember that smartwatches are still in their infancy as far as product life goes. Many are still in their first version, a few are on their second, but these are not devices that have been around for several iterations and had the kinks worked out of them.
We can only assume that locked screens will be an option in later smartwatch OS’s, and that data encryption will be bumped up to keep your private and sensitive data safe.
However, if you’re considering strapping a brand new smartwatch to your wrist in the near future, these are safety considerations that are as significant as what the device will do to your health and longevity.
ARE SMARTWATCHES SAFE TO WEAR?
The short answer is that yes, smartwatches are safe.
However, their safety doesn’t come without at least a few concerns. While the privacy issues will, we are certain, be resolved soon enough, it may take longer to get a definitive answer the health implications because they simply take longer to play out.
We know, for example, that smartwatches may not cause serious health problems after just a few months or a year of wear and use, but what about five years?
We just don’t know yet.
What we do know is that much of the respected evidence suggests that wearing a smartwatch from a reputable company will cause you no more harm than wearing an ordinary wristwatch.
If you’re interested in purchasing a smartwatch, even if it’s one that relies on 3G for connectivity, you shouldn’t let safety concerns hold you back.
What do you think? Are you concerned with health risks when wearing your smart watch?