Fitness trackers, data collection and privacy

January 14, 2015 |

In the article Wearable Fitness Trackers Increase in Popularity and Raise Gathered Data’s Questions raises again the issue of data collection by the growing suit of fitness trackers, such as Fit Bit.  The collection of data of fitness trackers extends across the spectrum of personal information, from geo location to sensitive health information.  Connecting that data to an app on the phone opens up other privacy related issues involving inadequate security if that information is delivered by wi fi. For the purpose of the Privacy Act the collection of sensitive personal information, in particular health information, will probably be covered by the Privacy Act whether the entity collecting it is a small business operator or not.

The article provides:

Wearable fitness trackers have become more popular, being able to gather a great deal of information. Nevertheless, along with the popularity of these devices, there are concerns growing as to how this data gathered can be used to the benefit of the users and as to the vulnerabilities and breaches in online security that might jeopardize one’s privacy.

The wearable fitness trackers have been increasing in popularity over time and they will continue on their spin for just a few more years till smart watches (like the much anticipated Apple Watch) take over the largest share of the pie, according to a recent report from Juniper Research. However, the big question remains as to how the data captured by the wearable devices (fitness trackers adjusted to your wrists, your knees and elsewhere) is used and how vulnerable this information can be.

Of course, the data stored in such cases is not limited to the calories burnt or the steps taken at a time. There is a tendency for these fitness trackers to help users gather more information, in order to become more appealing and capture the attention of the consumers universally.

This is why there are examples of fitness trackers including the apps that spot your ovulation and help you comprehend when it is the best time to get pregnant (with the best odds being in your favour). Other uses of fitness trackers involve monitoring your heart rate and even your glucose levels and so on. Helpful though they might be, these details should not be given to the wrong people or used in the wrong manner.

At CES, a lot of startups and entrepreneurs have been displaying their innovations and they have been attracting universal acclaim, due to the extra steps taken by wearable fitness trackers (and other wearable trackers, not limited to fitness but to health, as well). Medical interest is high, since there is great room for taking full advantage of the data gathered by a single device. Quoting WebMD CEO David Schlanger, “The future is going to be one where all your information is going to be in one place”.

The future of wearable fitness trackers has to do with the proper combination of data and with their thorough, deep analysis. Riaan Conradie, the founder of LifeQ, was a speaker at CES 2015 and expressed his view of the matter: “Checking a device that tells you you’ve had five hours of terrible sleep is just adding insult to injury. You already know that. But identifying why I’m not sleeping well after X, Y, Z – after I’ve eaten too much, drank something, not exercised enough – then it becomes useful to change habits and do something about the poor sleep.”

As for the security concerns regarding the data gathered, Conradie was eloquent and explained: “This was a bad year for security in general, but one critical thing has come out of it: data security should be the responsibility of everyone, from the users to the companies. Like how we have police and security services, but we still lock our door. We should be moving to that kind of model, where consumers take responsibility for data security as much as companies do.” So, everybody should be made well aware of the risks that data collection analysis involve – without underestimating the importance of the benefits that derive from such activities.

Late last year the reportage of data from a Fit Bit being used in a civil court case, a personal injury claim in Canada, caused a stir.  It was covered by the Atlantic in When Fitbit Is the Expert Witness, Forbes in Fitbit Data Now Being Used In The Courtroom and the Guardian in Court sets legal precedent with evidence from Fitbit health tracker to name but a few of the reports covering the case.

One Response to “Fitness trackers, data collection and privacy”

  1. Fitness trackers, data collection and privacy | Australian Law Blogs

    […] Fitness trackers, data collection and privacy […]

Leave a Reply