Unfit Bits: The Downside of Fitness Trackers

Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit, Garmin … with fitness experts recommending we walk 10,000 steps a day, many of us have embraced the popularity (and splashed a fair amount of cash) on one of the many fandangle fitness trackers currently on the market.

This custom-made gym jewellery claims to do everything from counting steps, tracking the quality and quantity of your sleep and monitoring the frequency, duration, intensity and patterns of your movement.

But there is a downside. Some insurance companies have started launching programs offering customers discounts if they wear fitness trackers and log a certain amount of steps per day, in exchange for a few hundred bucks off their annual insurance bill.

And some of these companies and even supermarkets and universities trade incentives for access to an individual’s health and fitness data. Which has raised some fully warranted privacy concerns.

What if the terms and conditions change? Or the company goes broke? And some companies don’t even have privacy policies. WTF happens to your data then?

Deborah Lupton, a research professor at the University of Canberra, agrees it’s a concerning trend. “I can see where there’s a move in insurance towards the idea that if people don’t upload their health and fitness data to the insurer, if they don’t agree to do that, they will actually be punished by having to pay higher premiums,” she said.

But the other question is, who else wants to use your data? In the past, health data was private info – shared between fitness besties, your bathroom scales and possibly your GP, but these days with data being measured digitally, much of it disappears into an easily hackable cloud. And once it ascends, we lose any control we may have over our own private info.

A legal case in Canada a few years ago broke new (and dirty) ground by using data collected from a Fitbit to assess the fitness of a client making an injury claim. And with continuously monitored physiological activity, experts are even suggesting that if data was accessible to criminal investigators, it could be used to track possible suspects by placing them at the scene of a crime.

You were mindlessly glued to the box watching the new season of GOT at the time? Not according to data which showed you had a raised heart rate, faster breathing and elevated levels of stress. (Unless you seriously get off on GOT’s sauciness).

It’s all a bit depressing really. You were just trying to get rid of some of the wobbly bits. But hold on a tick – a satirical project launched by New York-based artist and data engineer, Tega Brain (and yes, she’s used it), might just help you get the jump on those data-munching hackers. She’ll show you how to spoof your stats, without taking a step. And have a ton of fun while you’re at it. Rig up the family pet and you’ll soon be pocketing the cash like a pro.