Wearables Could Kill


I know, you’re doing the whole “quantified self” thing. You’re wearing your FitBit, or your Microsoft Band, or your Apple Watch…whatever you happen to be wearing. It’s sending you all of this amazing (albeit easily faked) data about your sleep cycle, how many calories you’ve burned, how many deuces you’ve dropped over a six month period, how many inches you’ve walked, etc. And I get it. Maybe you’re a nerd that never thought twice about fitness and health, but now that it can interact with your smartphone or PC, woo boy! Sign me up! Right? And hey, I really like the fact that people are taking a greater interest in their health. It’s important. And while certainly a person can run through life with the (supposed) logic of “as long as it gets people into…” such and such a thing–like health–well then it’s all worth it. No matter the potential downsides. Since I don’t subscribe to the idea that the ends justify the means, I would actually like to discuss at least a couple of the downsides of the “quantified self” craze that Western society seems to be going through.

Let’s start this party with the big one: I bet you didn’t think that your “wonderful” fitness tracking device would end up being used against you in a court of law, did you? Such a thing has occurred to a woman in Florida. All of that sleep data, all of that exercise data, everything, gets sent up to servers that can be accessed relatively willy-nilly by the authorities, be it the police, the FBI, the NSA, or whoever. And like what happened to the woman in Florida, they think they know that you lied about getting raped (keep in mind, falsely reported rape cases only account for about 9% of all rape cases). If it’s true that based upon the sleep data collected by the police via that Florida woman’s internet-connected FitBit that her claim of rape didn’t happen (but let’s keep in mind that fitness tracker data is easy to fake, or–more conspiratorially–could’ve been altered at the server), it’s a very good thing that the truth of the matter was discovered, and someone isn’t wrongfully going to prison.

But like many a technology, this sword swings both ways. What can be used to set one person free, can be used to implicate and imprison (or worse) someone, justly or unjustly. For example, consider when you started posting college party pictures on Facebook. I bet you had no idea that years down the line Facebook would become so ubiquitous that your future employers would be using it to judge you as a prospect for employment? But ouch…those college party pictures. Sorry, Johnny, we just can’t have someone working here that drinks “alchy” off of the boob-luge! Could FitBit data be used the same way? Maybe not exactly in matters of employment (unless you were trying to get a job at a gym, perhaps, and they discovered you don’t really work out all that much), but in matters of health insurance perhaps? How high will your premium be if they discover you’ve been on a strict Doritos-diet and calling you a couch potato is a kindness? All you wanted to do was track your sleep cycle, you weren’t interested in the fitness part, and you didn’t even realize that the insurance companies could access that data, but they did, and now you’re going to pay a premium (pun intended). Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if health insurance companies offered free FitBits and Android Wear devices to clients, or gave you a substantial discount to wear one, only to later be charged out of your ass for sitting on your ass most of the time (and in the US, you “have to” have health insurance, so for the victims of a shitty economy, you’re going to take any deal you can get).

Imagine when fitness trackers become a standard in courts. Imagine when they get better at registering what you’re doing. Imagine a police encounter that you’re involved in, and perhaps that data gets twisted just a bit to say, “You see, your honor, the FitBit data clearly shows that he lunged at me, and that his heart was beating at a higher rate. Clearly he was nervous over his guilt getting discovered.” There are a million ways that scenario could go, many of which don’t even require an altering of the data from your fitness tracker. All of which could be avoided by just living a healthy lifestyle, no taskmaster on your wrist required.

And that’s just the tip of the nightmare scenario (which I bring up because I don’t hear a whole lot of other people talking about this stuff). These are “fitness trackers”, and I think the emphasis should be put on the word “tracker”. Certainly your smartphone already achieves this job of tracking everywhere you go and much of what you do, but FitBit, AppleWatch, and the like take all of this to a whole new level…all under the guise that it will make you healthy. Of course the part that they are missing is the unhealthy aspects of stress, which not meeting your personal fitness goals set by you or a program for your device will put on you throughout the day. The harmfulness of stress to your health cannot be overstated, keep that in mind.

Which me brings me to the other point I want to make about fitness trackers. The privacy and security aspects (yes, this is just another device to be hacked/cracked in your personal network) aside, I don’t think you realize what you’re doing to yourself with these things. The desire to be healthy, and the actions to make it happen, are something that optimally come from the inside. It’s an intrinsic motivation to have a happy and healthy life. This notion of “gamifying” everything is antithetical to that idea, in my opinion. You’re playing a game of carrots and sticks with yourself. Well, as long as I do this many steps today, I’ll give myself a reward by watching some TV or something. Look, if you want to watch TV, watch TV. Don’t buy some device to slave-drive you into making you feel good about it. If you have a “TV watching problem”, then that’s the problem that needs to be addressed, it’s not something to be assuaged or controlled by your fitness level. These games you are playing with yourself are avoiding the real workout that needs to be done: the mental one. The therapeutic one. I don’t listen to a doctor telling me how to be healthy when he smokes a pack a day, nor do I think it’s a good idea to listen to oneself when one’s motivation for doing something is the carrot at the end of the stick. That’s a master-slave relationship, even if its with just you. And that’s not freedom. And if it isn’t freeing, then fuck it.

I want to end off saying that I know many people that don’t mind giving up their privacy and security by wearing these devices. I know people that definitely are not playing a game of carrots and sticks with themselves, and they are genuinely interested in collecting objective data about themselves. And while the former I think is certainly the norm, the latter is not, and I think it is in people’s benefit to consider both matters. And if you don’t care? Well, you don’t care.

But I care. There’s no (really) good reason why every single one of these devices have to connect to the internet in some fashion. Devices of this ilk have been sold for decades, giving you the objective data you’d like, but staying all on the device, private and safe. And as far as the carrots and sticks…look, have the carrot. Be good to yourself. Just ditch that fucking stick with the string attached. You’re an individual. Get control of yourself.

Carpe lucem!