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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearable technologies such as health and location trackers have been thrust into the public spotlight – spurring not only excitement about their potential benefits but also debate over their potential risks. Could these devices help public health authorities better predict, manage and avert future outbreaks? How might employers use data from wearable devices to safely reopen businesses? What are the implications for privacy and equity? How might this data be abused or used for other intended purposes such as public surveillance?

These questions are at the heart of new efforts by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with public health authorities, leading technology companies and other stakeholders, to develop and pilot new approaches for the ethical treatment and sharing of health data collected by consumer wearable devices.

This paper aims to take these efforts one step further, looking beyond the scope of wearable devices at the broader ecosystem of connected technologies that is coming together to create “the internet of bodies” (IoB). As with any area of emerging technology, the IoB is evolving rapidly and its future is unknown. It is for exactly this reason that careful attention and thought – not simply on the part of business but from government, civil society and the public at large – is required.

This paper does not claim to provide a comprehensive view of all of the many facets of the IoB. However, it provides a glimpse of the myriad of complex issues that can arise when the cyber and physical worlds come together.

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