Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Fitness First?

My review of the Pebble smartwatch touched on some privacy related aspects, but given the limited scope of the review didn’t delve deep enough. So I thought I’d dedicate a few more words on how The Internet of Things, the main Internet related commercial drive we are going to be exposed to during upcoming years, comes secretly bundled with some intensive tracking.
I’ll make it short, though. I am often ridiculed for being paranoid when I point out I don’t want companies to keep track of my personal information because I cannot trust them to use the data properly. Now we know that this is more than mere paranoia: data gathered from a FitBit tracking device will be used in a court case, with some interesting aspects this brings to the table pointed out in this article co-written by Angela Daly (a Twitter friend previously mentioned here).
Things come down to a simple equation. Given the Pebble's context of fitness tracking, do you really want an American company with very loose ideas on privacy (at least by European standards) to hold on to detailed data on your location, your activities, your diet and your biometrics in return for basic analysis of this data?
This is not a simple question. If I were to knock on your door and ask you to give me this data, you would rightly tell me to F off. Yet the millions using fitness tracking devices do just that, often/usually without thinking twice about it. On the other hand, this data could – not now, but eventually – be used to raise the alarm bells and tell you to rush to the nearest emergency room when its analysis points at a pending heart attack.
I’m not here to tell you to keep fitness trackers out of your life. What I am saying, however, is that things don’t have to be this way. We do not have to trade our privacy for our health. This entire business model that companies such as Google and Facebook have built their empires on is crap!
I would happily give FitBit/Jawbone/whatever a few dollars a year to receive the same services but have my data remain my data. I know a lot of the benefits of fitness tracking come through statistical analysis of many people’s private data and that contemporary data anonamysation techniques have been repeatedly proven ineffective, but surely there can be a way to achieve that without my life turning into tradeable commodity in the process.

Image by Kazuhiro Keino, Creative Commons licence


Uri said...

I don’t quite follow your logic. I tell you a story about how the IRS audited me, but I was able to show them all the receipts I’ve kept, and prove that I owe nothing, and you turn that into a cautionary tale about the danger of record keeping?!

I won’t argue over the privacy issue, but why pick such a poor example?

Moshe Reuveni said...

I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say.
If what you're saying is that I gave a bad example because the Fitbit data is used in favour of the little person, then bear in mind that this case would be setting a precedent.