Everyone who has ever moved out of home has had that phone call with their mother – are you eating properly? How are you sleeping? Are you getting outdoors? The incessant barrage of questions. If you’re like me, you roll your eyes and say something along the lines of ‘yes…GAWD mam I am an ADULT you know…’ I mean, how dare she?! questioning my ability to take care of myself, like I’m some sort of child!
Alas Irony is a cruel mistress, and it’s sadly apparent that I’ve voluntarily offered and tracked all of this information through apps, all of my own accord.
I intensively researched and purchased the best activity tracker my meagre budget would allow, which counts my steps and gives me a polite little dart if I’ve been still for what it deems to be too long, reminding me to go stretch my legs.
This nifty little device also detects when I’m asleep and monitors my movement, creating a handy graph each morning of how well I slept and for how long. If you don’t have a snazzy gadget like mine then there are also plenty of apps akin to ‘SleepCycle’ which simply use the accelerometer in your smart phone to sense your weight shifting on your mattress each night.
There are also multitudinous apps available to track your diet, with varying degrees of accuracy – some even include barcode scanners for exact logging of your dietary habits.
I’m not even going into fitness apps or we’d be here all day – MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun/Walk/Cycle, apps that offer training plans for everything from couch to 5ks, marathons, yoga sequences, boxing drills… Anything and everything you could dream of, all ready and waiting for you to offer up your personal health details.
This my friends, is Big Mother. Always hovering and, in theory, watching out for your health. Helping you to take care of yourself.
I’m not against these apps – as I say, I’ve volunteered a LOT of my personal information through them, without even really thinking of the ramifications. Under the guise of getting healthy, keeping fit, meeting personal goals it seems perfectly reasonable to hand over your personal information. But lets just pause for a second to think about just how detailed a picture this data creates about you, and what sort of access you grant each of these apps.
It knows my name, age, height, weight, email, phone number, location, preferred routes, it may even have before/after shots of you in your undies. A quick look at the developer permissions these apps request include: Location, Photos/Media/Files, Contacts, Identity, Camera, Wifi, Calendar, SMS, Permission to read and write my phones call log, Bluetooth information and microphone.
I’m not alone either, 7million fitness bands were sold in Q1 of this year (2015) and reports indicate that there are upwards of 100,000 fitness apps available for download, so there’s plenty of people just like me, signing away this data just so we can boast about our step count.
The question is, what happens to that data? Some of it is being sold to marketing companies already, other providers reserve the option to sell it later. Yes Big Mother is watching over me, but what about Big Brother?
The list of uses for this data is almost as large as the data itself, collating information on popular routes could impact city planning – pedestrian crossing, street lamps, city bikes, bike lanes, bus routes..
Your app could alert you to when you’ve worn out your favourite shoes and order you replacements, your mileage in those shoes could be sold off to develop better shoes, or to sell you the ‘new edition’, granting access to your playlist could suggest new songs or similar artists.
My insurance company could reward me for hitting certain fitness milestones – completing my couch to 5k or losing that stubborn 5pounds.
None of this sounds particularly harmful, to be honest it sounds pretty cool.
However there is a dark side (isn’t there always) during a talk in 2013 Gus Hunt, the CTO of the CIA, revealed a fascinating fact :
“just simply by looking at the data what they can find out is with pretty good accuracy what your gender is, whether you’re tall or you’re short, whether you’re heavy or light, but what’s really most intriguing is that you can be 100% guaranteed to be identified by simply your gait – how you walk.”
Some of that information doesn’t surprise me, much of it I’ve volunteered, but what leaps out at me is that the little accelerometer I keep on my wrist is uniquely identifying me by my gait. Call me a cynic but that’s a nefarious amount of information to hold on someone.
Going back to the ‘cool’ examples, what if my insurer thinks I’m not losing the right amount of weight fast enough? or what if I didn’t meet my target 10k time? or went a bit OTT on the ice cream?
What if they track my phone location and decide I drove to work a little too quickly this morning? Will my premiums then go up accordingly?
What if your employers get access to this data? What if they think I’m not too sick to come in today after all?
Sure, right now this information is mostly just being used to target ads at me. that’s a little irritating, but mostly avoidable and not particularly sinister, indeed a lot of people are happy to get these targeted ads. They like Reebok runners and want to know about Reeboks new runners. Happy Days.The old chestnut of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ often gets trotted out at this point – basically if you’re not doing anything illegal or wrong, then you won’t mind me watching you, if you are doing something wrong you deserve to be caught and you have no right to complain about it.
But lets be honest, none of us are perfect. We all have something we want to hide, something we don’t want to be public knowledge.
Maybe traffic wasn’t that bad this morning and I just slept in.
Maybe I wasn’t sick this morning and I just couldn’t face that meeting?
What if I didn’t go to the gym on my way home, I actually went shopping?
What I want you to think about now is at what point does this become surveillance? and where does it start getting restrictive?
A world where your every move is logged and tracked and where your every action is scrutinized isn’t a healthy atmosphere to live in – but it’s one we’re signing up to one app at a time without even realising.
This isn’t big data – it’s OUR data, and we need to start thinking about who we share that with.
Sleep on it Leibchen.