Usability and privacy protection affect the use of self-tracking wearable devices

Devices that track a person's physical activity, health and recovery have increased and become more diverse in the past decade. For example, smartwatches and pedometers enter the markets at an increasing pace, but the utilisation of the data they collect is still in many senses in its infancy. End-users are concerned about the protection of their privacy, which significantly influences the use of the devices and the utilisation of the health data.

LUT University's researcher Jayden Khakurel's dissertation study in the field of software programming examined factors influencing the use of quantified self-tracking wearable devices among older adults and in organisational use.

Especially professional organisations compose a large group of consumers who are interested about what is happening in their body. People use quantified self-tracking wearable devices to monitor the efficiency of their workouts and recovery from them, everyday physical activity or physical signs of stress. Daily use may become habitual for some, but the devices are often abandoned after the initial excitement wears off.

People often consider the range of devices and features confusing – Jayden Khakurel

The study revealed that usability is a significant factor among older adults. "The device must be simple enough to use in order for it to become a part of daily routines. People often consider the range of devices and features confusing. A simpler selection could motivate more senior citizens to monitor their own health data," explains Khakurel.

What if your supervisor sees your heart rate and stress level?

Real-time health data can help to develop preventive health services for the elderly or in working communities, but privacy protection is a concern that must be addressed in the design process. Khakurel studied employee attitudes to granting access to their health data. To this end, he conducted a survey among the university's employees.

"Access to data was a dividing question. Some respondents had great reservations about sharing their health data, whereas others saw potential benefits for occupational health care administration and took a positive stance."

Professor Jari Porras, the supervisor of Khakurel's dissertation, believes that the greatest leap in the utilisation of health data has yet to be taken. Promoting a person's health and functional ability is a significant challenge for the post-industrial society, where people mostly work sitting down and in front of a computer screen. Porras hopes that people would consider the use of individual health data as an opportunity to take better care of themselves.

"Technology has made great strides since the very first wearable devices, but the greatest ones in the utilisation of data still remain to be made. Easily approachable applications that address usability issues and end-user concerns can improve people's quality of life."

The greatest leap in the utilisation of health data has yet to be taken – Jari Porras

Porras goes on to say that the usability perceived by the consumer culminates in the device and software manufacturers' finished product solutions. The results of the study will help manufacturers to remove obstacles to the adoption of their devices and to highlight the benefits and data yielded by the regular use of the devices.

The research field is still young and requires initiatives from a number of other disciplines. In a time that emphasises individualism, many may consider some of the findings of Khakurel's study surprising.

"For example, the study suggests that design does not significantly influence the adoption or abandonment of a device. Because the range of sizes and prices on the market is already so extensive, design is of little consequence," relates Porras.

Jayden Khakurel graduated from one of LUT's international Master's programmes in technology in 2013. Before his doctoral studies, he was an entrepreneur in the field of health care technology. Khakurel then came up with a dissertation topic that he proposed to a professor he knew, naturally linking it to other usability research at LUT.

The advantages of increased physical activity are widely known, but that does not prevent the recent doctoral graduate from preaching its benefits and impacts: "When a person becomes more active physically, it has positive implications at many levels. The person feels better, needs health care services less, and is more often motivated to do things together with friends and family. A health-conscious employee is also more productive, and the employer may even help to promote the employee's capacity to work. All technological tools that aim for this are worth adopting."

Jayden Khakurel, M.Sc. (Tech.) specialising in computer science, defended his doctoral dissertation in the field of software engineering at LUT on December 19. His dissertation is titled "Enhancing the Adoption of Quantified Self-Tracking Wearable Devices". Research Professor Minna Pikkarainen, affiliated with Oulu Business School, the Martti Ahtisaari Institute/Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu, and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, acted as opponent. Professor Jari Porras of LUT acted as custos.

The dissertation has been published in LUT's Acta Universitatis Lappeenrantaensis research series, publication number 836. ISBN 978-952-335-318-3, ISBN 978-952-335-319-0 (PDF), ISSN-L 1456-4491. The electronic version is available in the LUTPub database: http://lutpub.lut.fi/handle/10024/158868. A printed version of the dissertation may be purchased from the Aalef bookstore, tel. +358 44 744 5511 or kirjakauppa@aalef.fi, or online from the LUT Shop: https://lutshop.lut.fi/.  


More information:

Jayden Khakurel, Junior Researcher, +358 504098587 Jayden.Khakurel@lut.fi

Jari Porras, Professor, +358 400555427, jari.porras@lut.fi