Fitbit threatens personal privacy
TNE Editor
/ Categories: Campus News, Health

Fitbit threatens personal privacy

Published 3/8/16

Mercedes Montoya

TNE Writer

While Fitbit fitness trackers are growing in popularity and the promising future of the company’s stock is being promoted, the possibility of the fitness aid threatening one’s privacy is also increasing.

The Fitbit, commonly worn now as a wristband, logs data regarding the wearer’s activities throughout the day. Data logged includes the number of steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, intensity of motion and sleep quality. Sleep quality is measured in terms of what time one went to bed, how often they woke and how much they moved.

Data logged on one’s Fitbit can be synced to an online account through the Fitbit mobile application or a Bluetooth compatible Windows 10 PC. Through the online account, activity history can be viewed and analyzed in daily, weekly or monthly increments.  Users have the option to manually sync their tracker at any chosen time or set scheduled automatic syncs. This information is made private by default, but users can choose to change this setting.

With older Fitbit versions, the mobile application MobileRun could be used with a GPS enabled mobile device to track one’s distance, elevation and pace of a workout. When synced, this data is saved in the account’s exercise history, as well as a GPS map of the route. A new Fitbit release, the Fitbit Surge, has built-in GPS, recording this information automatically.

According to Fitbit’s privacy policy, the company does not sell data that could identify their users to anyone. This data includes personal identifiers such as name, email, address or data that could be reasonably linked back to the user. However, the policy does state the company will share information if required by law.

Fitbit data is now being used in legal proceedings in the United States and Canada to affirm and disprove claims.

In Calgary, Canada, Fitbit data was used in a personal injury case. The data was used to prove the effects of an accident on a client. Fitbits did not exist prior to the accident. However, the individual was an active personal trainer. Post-injury data was used to demonstrate her lack of activity after the accident, affirming her claims.

A Pennsylvania woman reported a sexual assault by a home intruder. Detectives investigating the crime questioned the woman’s story. She voluntarily shared her Fitbit data that disproved her claims of an assault. The data showed the woman had taken approximately 1,000 steps between the time she claimed she went to bed and the time she reported the assault to a 911 operator.

In both of these cases, the wearer of the fitness tracker volunteered their data. While Fitbit vows to not disclose personal data, the company must comply with valid legal processes such as warrants or subpoenas. Data accessible on Fitbit’s servers do not have the legal protections cellular devices and home computers have since the server is Web-based.

This use of Fitbit data has the potential to deter new customers.

“I don’t personally have a Fitbit, but I can understand how these events could warrant some concern from those who do,” said Matthew Sullivan, Wagoner sophomore. “This would make me think a little more before purchasing products from Fitbit.”

While some individuals express concern regarding the legal potential of Fitbit data, others welcome it.

“I think that if they’re going to help us catch criminals and those who break the law, I think it’s great,” said Brianna Collins, Tahlequah sophomore.

It can be said those who are concerned about the legal aspect of Fitbit data could choose to not wear the fitness trackers. They could avoid the possibility of having personal data, including GPS tracking, used against them in a legal case. However, some people do not have the choice to not wear these tracking devices.

Oral Roberts University in Tulsa is now requiring incoming freshmen to wear a Fitbit and record 10,000 steps each day. Purchased by the students, the tracker records student activity and uses GPS technology to track where the exercise was performed. Additionally, data regarding eating, sleeping, calories burned and weight is recorded. Professors have access to this information since the trackers feed into a grade book.

“It’s a conscious reminder that you can look at right there on your wrist,” said Allison Holt, student health services registered nurse. “It’s not something we had before. I think it lets people know how healthy they are every day. It could be used in a bad way or a negative way, but I think as our technology is, anything could. We have a lot more good from it that benefits our health than the negative.”

As with many technological devices, Fitbit products have the potential for both good and bad. Fitbit trackers can increase motivation and benefit one’s health by readily recording physical activity and sleep activity. For those abiding by the laws, the potential for good can be considerably greater.

For more information regarding Fitbit’s privacy policy, visit

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