Many people who use a fitness tracker will happily tell you that it has had an unequivocally positive impact on their lives. These useful gadgets are making movement and exercise a larger priority, they are encouraging friendly competition among friends, and they’re encouraging people to feel more accountable for their fitness thanks to the continual reminder right there on their wrist.
But could there be a downside to the information being transmitted by these trackers?
Because fitness trackers are relatively new technology, we do not yet know or understand the far-reaching consequences of wearing a device that transmits data about our every move. We thought that this was worth a closer look, so checked out a few of the possibilities, and some of what we found was quite startling…
What Kind of Data Is Being Transmitted?
Your fitness tracker will offer you a readout right there on your wrist, but for a more complete analysis of your movement data, you will usually need to go to a website, or access an app on your phone. What this means is that your fitness tracker is constantly transmitting data via Bluetooth, and the truth is, we are not yet sure how secure those transmissions are.
Remember: it is not just a step count that is being tracked. Your fitness tracker is also looking at the following…
Movement and Location – Your tracker is able to count steps through vibration, and pinpoint location via GPS. Some apps will even display a highlighted walking or jogging route, showing you exactly where you were and when.
This data is incredibly useful to you as a user. You can plan out better routes and extend your goals. However, this data may also be very valuable to other companies or hackers, and that’s worrying.
Times Awake and Asleep – Another cool aspect of most fitness trackers is that they will analyze your sleep patterns. Many people have discovered health issues thanks to some unusual sleep data, prompting a visit to their doctor. Others have simply become better at prioritizing sleep as a good health habit.
But, are there any situations where someone else might find this information useful? We are never more vulnerable than when we are asleep, and broadcasting that information out to unknown sources might make a lot of people nervous.
Heart Rate – Some fitness trackers also have heart monitors. People tend to use this information to ensure they’re exercising efficiently and safely. But what if this information was being sent to your doctor or your employer without your knowledge? It’s a scary thought.
Who Would Want to See This Info?
So now that we have an idea of what kind of information is out there, let’s take a look at who might be interested in looking at it.
Insurance Companies – Could insurance companies begin using this data to refute disability claims? Or could they begin imposing minimum step counts each day, or even drop their level of cover? There could be some huge implications in health care if this were the case.
Employers – An employer might like to see your tracking data to determine whether or not you were really “home sick,” or whether the traffic jam you said you were stuck in actually happened. Having employees tracked all the time could introduce a lot more stress into many work environments.
Advertisers – If they know which stores you visit and when, they can serve up more pinpoint-accurate advertising. Imagine walking past a store, and suddenly seeing an ad for that same store pop up right on your phone!
Law Enforcement – On one hand, there might not be as many missing persons cases if the police knew where everyone was, but on the other hand, this might also violate many of your rights to privacy.
Criminals – The list of things that could go wrong if criminals got a hold of your data is a long one. They could strategically target homes that they knew to be empty, or ones where they knew everyone was asleep – and that’s just for starters.
What Are Fitness Tracker Companies Doing About This?
Some companies have better security than others, and many fitness tracker companies are working to ensure that their data is more safe and secure. That’s good news, but it doesn’t mean we’re totally out of the woods. If you have questions about your data security, it’s always best to start right at the source and contact the manufacturer of your device directly.