What are the implications of smart home technology within senior living residences on residents’ privacy? Tech products developed to help identify health problems or maintain independence can be invasive and legally questionable.
Integration of smart home technology is on the rise and is often meant to help older adults remain independent. But it also has the potential to restrict their freedom and lead to feelings that their privacy has been invaded. An article in the most recent Seniors Housing & Care Journal explored this issue with emphasis on the legal considerations for senior living communities.
Drawing on legal interpretations of privacy, the author noted the difficulty in identifying a single definition that would be applicable to all cases, particularly in the case of smart home technology. This is because the perception that privacy has been invaded is more important than the reality of the situation.
Senior living providers should consider that their residents may not fully understand what information is being collected, how it is used, and who has access to it. Additionally, certain types of technology are perceived to be more invasive than others.
For example, many older adults are uncomfortable with installation of video cameras in their residence or sensors that monitor private activities such as bathing, sleeping, or using the bathroom, even though the information collected is only used to identify health concerns. Other types of monitoring, however, such as step count or heart rate monitors, may not feel as invasive and are perceived as personally useful for older adults.
Other concerns include products developed by retail chains that are marketed as smart home elder care products. These products often infantilize older adults by placing emphasis on family members’ ability to monitor the older adult’s every move and deviations from normal activities. There is an issue with marketing the products to adult children when the older adult will be the one living with the technology.
The author concluded that senior living providers need to develop privacy policies that address the legal risks of preventing installation of smart home technology, as well as the legal risks of allowing installation of these technologies. These policies should consider that privacy is a highly individualized concern that may change over time and could influence well-being and behavior.
Frank JB. Dimensions of privacy and aging in place with smart home technology: Legal considerations for the seniors housing industry. Seniors Housing & Care Journal (2018); 26(1): 120-129.