With the growing costs of healthcare, many people are turning to technology to help them meet their health goals and keep them honest with following their fitness plans. While ample products are available that involve manually imputing important fitness metrics such as caloric intake, the primary focus of the fitness technology market is around trackers that heavily rely upon automation to collect fitness data.
Fitness trackers are wearable electronic devices, ranging from wristbands and smartwatches to smart clothes and fabrics, that collect and monitor health-related metrics such as step counts, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and sleep quality. Many brands also provide corresponding software-based UIs that enable customers to analyze their health data, set short and long-term goals, and gamify their fitness activities.
With some of the world’s biggest companies involved, the global business for wearable fitness trackers is projected to reach $192 billion by 2030.1 The prominent players have a reputation for monetizing the data they have access to, so users should assume they will do the same with their fitness data. With adoption in America soaring and 45% regularly wearing a smartwatch or a dedicated fitness tracker2, it’s important users understand how their data is stored and shared.
Who owns the data?
The data ownership and usage clauses of privacy policies can vary from device to device and company to company. Plus, policies are regularly open to wide interpretation and subject to change with each product update and release. If the company owns the data, then it could sell a user’s anonymized, or even non-anonymized, data to advertisers to service in-app ads or target users across their digital footprint.
Fitness tracker providers can even sell the information to healthcare providers as fitness data isn’t considered “health information” under U.S. federal HIPAA standards. However, that may not be overly concerning for a large portion of the population. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they’d be willing to wear a fitness tracker if it meant a health insurance discount, while 46% report they’d even actively share that data with the provider for the discount.3
Tips to protect fitness tracker data
Users can follow some precautions to better secure their fitness tracker data, including:
- Turn off the device’s location tracking except when you want it to map activity routes.
- Choose exactly what activities and metrics the device will track and deselect ones that you wouldn’t want to potentially be seen by your healthcare provider or other third party.
- Avoid connecting to unsecured or public WiFi networks to limit your exposure to malicious actors.
- Setup two-factor authentication for your device and any accompanying software to help shut any potential hackers out of your accounts.
While fitness trackers may be scraping personal and potentially highly sensitive data, they can provide immense benefits to health-conscious people, especially when proactive steps are taken to control and protect that data.
- Straits Research, Wearable Fitness Trackers Market, July 2022
- ValuePenguin, Nearly 70% of Americans Would Wear a Fitness Tracker/Smartwatch for Discounted Health Insurance, April 2022