Technology Can Grow Your Fitness Business—But Know the Risks

    Technologies new and old can be critical to growing your business, but understanding the risks associated with technology at the club is essential. IHRSA is here to keep you up to speed on tech in your club, from websites to retina scans.

    Implementing the latest technologies in your club can be a great way to stay ahead of your competitors, but if you're not careful, it can also get you in trouble. Your members may love not having to carry a membership card with them to access your facility, but if you're using biometric information in your club, you can't afford to not be up-to-date on the latest data privacy policies. Then consider your website. Having a website for your business may not seem like something new, but as our world gets more and more digital, you have to ensure you're complying with any and all regulations regarding your website.

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    Websites and the Americans with Disabilities Act

    If you think it doesn't matter to make sure your website is compatible with screen readers or to have subtitles on your videos, think again. These are elements of website accessibility, a practice that aims to ensure that users who are deaf, blind, or living with any form of disability can access online content with the same level of independence and privacy as anyone else.

    It is something even a celebrity like Beyoncé has to comply with, or risk being sued. In Beyoncé's case, a blind fan wanted to buy an album from her website but was unable to do so. Now, the fan is suing Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment in a proposed class action, alleging the performer's website is not equally accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

    Why should you care that a fan is suing Beyoncé? What does this case have to do with your health club?

    Well, the same law that is being used to sue Beyoncé can be used to sue your health club. Under Title III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation—including health clubs. In the last few years, plaintiff’s attorneys, representing people with disabilities, have filed public accommodations lawsuits claiming that businesses’—not just celebrities’—websites are not accessible to people with disabilities.

    The number of website accessibility lawsuits are growing dramatically with a small number of plaintiffs’ attorneys systematically suing large numbers of businesses. As a result, health clubs are beginning to be the target of these suits, so we are seeing many more like the one against Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment.

    How to Protect Your Club

    How can you protect your club? It’s uncertain, says Helen Durkin, J.D., IHRSA’s executive vice president of public policy.

    “The Department of Justice has taken the position that websites of public accommodations must meet Title III of the ADA, but it has declined to issue guidelines,” she says. “But we are hoping for guidance to come from the courts through cases on this issue going to trial.”

    What’s a club operator to do in the meantime? When it comes to complying with the ADA, effort counts. Durkin believes it is important to show that you are taking steps to make your website accessible.

    Here are three ways to start to protect yourself from a potential website lawsuit:

    1. Have an accessibility policy on your website that says your club is committed to making the website accessible and give users instructions on how to contact your club if they are having difficulty.
    2. Make sure your web designers look at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative website.
    3. Avoid any red flags that make you an easy target for a suit. For example, videos should be closed captioned or transcribed.

    “The Department of Justice has taken the position that websites of public accommodations must meet Title III of the ADA.”

    Helen Durkin, J.D., Executive Vice President of Public Policy

    IHRSA - Boston

    Let's put ADA compliance aside for a moment and enter a world that looks freakishly more like a Black Mirror episode every day. If your club collects or uses biometric information, then you need to worry about how this data is stored.

    What Is Biometric Information?

    When IHRSA talks about biometric information, we are referring to any information captured, converted, or stored based on an individual’s biometric identifier. Biometric identifiers are biological characteristics that are unique to each individual, including:

    • Fingerprints
    • Retina scans
    • Facial scans
    • Iris scans

    Illinois is one of three states who has regulations for the collection and use of biometric data. Although more states could be on the way, as the first few weeks of 2019, have already seen several states (OR, NY, AZ, NH) begin to consider regulating the use of biometric data by businesses.

    Jeff Perkins, IHRSA’s assistant vice president of government relations, says, “If you are using biometric data or considering using it in your club, you need to be aware that lawmakers are starting to focus on this issue.”

    In general, biometrics and data privacy are a shifting landscape. Perkins says biometrics are becoming part of the broader regulatory push over the use and privacy of data, with lawmakers considering introducing more legislation surrounding consent, notice, and consumer power over the use of any data that may relate to them.

    Keeping these considerations in mind could help clubs structure their biometric data collection and use in a way that will reduce disruption as new laws in this area come into effect in the coming years.

    As we enter into this brave new world together, remember that technology can also help grow your business. Technology can help members personalize their workouts and push them to try new things in the club, and when you make your website more accessible you allow people of all abilities to feel welcome in your space. All of these regulations around technology can seem scary, but IHRSA is here to help you stay on top of the laws to help keep your business and wallets safe.

    Author avatar

    Emily Gluck

    Emily Gluck is IHRSA's Executive Assistant. On average her job consists of scheduling, supporting the executive team, and planning events, while the best part of her job is getting to work with a great team on a daily basis. If Emily is out of the office you can typically find her kayaking, hiking in a national park, or rafting on a remote river (ideally she likes to get out of cell phone range).