Researchers urge protection of athletes’ biometric data amid legal uncertainty

Researchers urge protection of athletes’ biometric data amid legal uncertainty

The increasing tracking and use of athletes’ biometric data, combined with growing interest in the data for a range of purposes, is creating new privacy concerns, without rules in place to determine who is responsible for keeping the data safe, researchers have warned.

The paper ‘Taboo Transactions: Selling Athlete Biometric Data,’ by John T. Holden of Oklahoma State University and Kimberly Houser of the University of North Texas, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Florida State University Law Review. Changes in the legality of sports gambling, in particular, have generated new demand for any information which could yield an edge in predicting sports results.

“This promise has made biometric data a priority across professional and amateur sports, however, it is not just teams and scouts with a major interest in this data, bookmakers and gamblers would also love to get access to this information,” the researchers write. “In light of the recent expansion of legalized sports gambling in the United States and the desirability of this information we propose that measures need to be taken to protect the interests of professional athletes.”

The paper considers the uncertain legal status of biometric data collected from athletes, and how collective bargaining agreements between professional leagues and players’ unions, which differ significantly between sports. The PGA, for example, formed an official partnership with Whoop at the beginning of 2021.

Federal and state privacy laws, ownership of biometrics and derived data, and the potential role of data trusts are considered.

The researchers recommend data trusts as “the best path forward to mitigate the potential harms to the athletes–while at the same time maximizing the societal and economic value of the (athletes’ biometric data).”

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