What is the Fitbit?

“Fitbit” was fist founded in 2007 by James Park and Eric Friedman as a startup when the two saw “potential for using sensors in small, wearable devices.” (Marshall 2016). The first Fitbit was small and designed to be put into a pocket rather than being worn on the wrist. The purpose for these wearable devices were be to help enhance fitness experiences by tracking all sorts of data about whoever was using the product including: “the number of steps you take, distance traversed and calories burned.” (Chandler 2012). The Fitbit was able to be “a simple and pleasant way to help participants self-monitor their behavior.” ((Cadmus-Bertram, Marcus, Patterson, Parker, Morey 2015). The product was so successful partly due to the fact that it was the first of its kind to hit the market. The Fitbit in fact became so well known that “many consumers even consider the brand a synonym for all products in the entire step-counting category” (Pasquarelli 2016). The demand for the Fitbit continued to rise and became so popular that the company “reported to have sold over 23 million devices in the 2015–2016 financial year in over 65 countries worldwide” (Owens, Cribb 2017). Besides being the main choice among the average consumers, the Fitbit was also ”the dominant brand used by health behavior researchers.” ((Van Blarigan, Kenfield, Tantum, Cadmus-Bertram, Carroll, Chan 2017). With the continuous progression of technology, the Fitbit has also become more and more advanced. As of 2018, there are many variations of the Fitbit that exist to fit different lifestyles. The device is now typically worn around the wrist as a band or a watch and has new features on top the original ones including: tracking your heart rate, tracking your activities and even has the ability to track distances by using GPS (Peckham 2018).

Negative ideas towards Fitbit

Despite the amount of success that Fitbit has achieved, there are many with negative feelings towards the company’s products. Not everyone believes that these devices are beneficial to users. Some of the negative ideas made towards the Fitbit include:

1. Insufficient Information

Fitness monitoring devices such as the Fitbit are “a category of products that, broadly speaking, (are) about enhancing one’s lifestyle through activities such as dietary monitoring and exercise tracking.” (Millington 2014). However, some believe that the Fitbit does not provide the amount of information needed  to truly help benefit one who is trying to achieve their fitness goals. In an article by Johnny Adamic, he writes that devices like the Fitbit “all rely on very limited metrics (steps taken, movement when you sleep, calorie tracking, heart rate monitor in some, and distance traveled with the movement) giving you a very skewed analysis about your health.” (Adamic 2015). These statistics created by the Fitbit are not able to fully track and monitor our health as our health depends on so much more than just numbers counted from a device.

2. Added Stress Factors

Other than being something they do for their personal health, exercise and fitness to many is also a form of stress-relief. The Fitbit is intended to be worn either all the time or at least while exercising. While it is on, the Fitbit is constantly collecting data and showing statistics on how active we are being. To some the fact that every movement they do is being tracked will cause stress which defeats the purpose of exercise for some who are looking to relieve this stress. In an article for “The Healthy Home Economist,” Sarah, addresses this idea of the Fitbit adding stress by saying: “Adding a lot of data and personal activity tracking to the mix is decidedly un-relaxing to me. I don’t want my every breath, step and heartbeat chronicled, tracked and categorized as I go through my workout whether it be a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood or a high intensity rebounding session on our outdoor trampoline.” (Sarah 2018). This is just one example of someone who has found the constant tracking of movements to be an added stress factor.

3. Privacy Concerns

The Fitbit attempts to track all the movements of our bodies, monitors our sleep and some models may even have a GPS function. These features add to the increasing concern of digital surveillance in technology. “Surveillance is the ‘self-tracking practices [that] are directed at regularly monitoring and recording, and often measuring, elements of an individual’s behaviours or bodily functions” (Goodyear, Kerner, Quennerstedt 2017). This description by Goodyear, Kerner and Quennerstedt of what a surveillance is basically describes a Fitbit’s functions. The Fitbit uses the data they gather from monitoring as a way to create data about the user’s health but this causes concerns for many who may feel like they are losing some of their privacy.

To myself, the biggest concern I have towards the Fitbit is the idea of constant surveillance and how that can affect our privacy.

The Fitbit and Surveillance

Surveillance and the invasion of privacy is a problem that is continuing to come up as we all continue to become more and more digital. Most of us are already aware that our online activities are being tracked including our internet searches, conversations with others and pretty much the rest of our internet activity. This is typically done with the purpose of targeted advertising or in some cases trying to ensure public safety. This data is collected as we use our phones, computers and other devices. “The development of wireless mobile devices and associated software that can monitor and measure many aspects of bodily functions and activities and geolocation details has provided people with the opportunity to engage in self-tracking.” (Lupton 2014). This quote talks about technology like the Fitbit and talks about how it collects a ton of health related data about the wearer including tracking all their movements, their sleep cycle and even their locations. This allows for the user to be able to continually check up on how they are doing in terms of their fitness goals and how they believe their overall health is. However, if this information is also being used by companies, or authorities, then this can be a cause for concern. There are two cases I have found about the Fitbit which are concerning in terms of how our privacy can be affected.

1. Leaked Information

In 2011, during the earlier years of the Fitbit there was a case where users found that all their information tracked from the Fitbit including sexual activity could be viewed by the public. Users found that data such as, duration and effort of their sexual activity was being shared to the public (Weinstein 2016). This was the result of people sharing their Fitbit users profiles with the account on public, which is the default setting (Rao 2011). This is similar to users of social media who can have all their information accessed because they did not change their account to private mode in the privacy settings.

2. Access to Information

The higher end Fitbit’s have a GPS function that can track the user’s location as well as speed. In the case of Chris Bucchere this information was used against him by authorities . Chris Bucchere hit and killed an elderly man as he was riding his bike in San Fransisco. They were able to find out it was him by accessing data from his fitness tracker, which has the GPS function. The fitness tracker, not specifically stated as being a Fitbit but more or less a similar device, showed that Chris was speeding when the accident had occurred (Weinstein 2016). In this specific incident this may have been a good thing because justice was served but it shows how wearing something as harmless as a Fitbit has the potential to reveal so much about ourselves and our lives.

Final Thoughts

The Fitbit allows users to be able to “self-track” and monitor their health and fitness. This product is useful when it comes to monitoring and working towards fitness goals but it is important for users to be aware of what it comes with. That is that their privacy can be affected by the Fitbit. It is likely that many are not aware of these risks at all such as those talked about earlier who got their information released to the public without them knowing. They may think of the Fitbit as just a harmless device that tracks their steps without knowing that with the power of technology, this device can actually track so much more. In the same way it is important for us to have literacy when we use online sites such as social media, we must also be aware of potential risks that come with a device like the Fitbit. Internet surveillance is something that will exist but it is up to us to educate ourselves on how to protect and disclose information that we want to keep private. 

 

References

Adamic, J. (2015, April 05). The Dark Side of Your Fitbit And Fitness App. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-dark-side-of-your-fitbit-and-fitness-app

Cadmus-Bertram, L., Marcus, B. H., Patterson, R. E., Parker, B. A., & Morey, B. L. (2015). Use of the Fitbit to Measure Adherence to a Physical Activity Intervention Among Overweight or Obese, Postmenopausal Women: Self-Monitoring Trajectory During 16 Weeks. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 3(4), e96. http://doi.org/10.2196/mhealth.4229

Chandler, N. (2012, May 02). How FitBit Works. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/fitness/fitbit.htm

Goodyear, V., Kerner, C., & Quennerstedt, M. (2017). Young people’s uses of wearable healthy lifestyle technologies; surveillance, self-surveillance and resistance. Sport, Education and Society, 1-14.

Lupton, D. (2014). Health promotion in the digital era: A critical commentary. Health Promotion International, 30(1), 174-183. DOI:10.1093/heapro/dau091

Marshall, G. (2016, September 09). The story of Fitbit: How a wooden box became a $4 billion company. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.wareable.com/fitbit/youre-fitbit-and-you-know-it-how-a-wooden-box-became-a-dollar-4-billion-company

Millington, B. (2014) Smartphone Apps and the Mobile Privatizationof Health and Fitness, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 31(5), 479-493, DOI:10.1080/15295036.2014.973429

Owens, J., & Cribb, A. (2017). ‘My Fitbit Thinks I Can Do Better!’ Do Health Promoting Wearable Technologies Support Personal Autonomy? Philosophy & Technology, Philosophy & Technology, 6/6/2017.

Pasquarelli, A. (2016). How Fitbit is staying a step ahead. Advertising Age, 87(17), 0021.

Peckham, J. (2018, April 05). Best Fitbit 2018: Which is right for you? Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.techradar.com/news/wearables/best-fitbit-which-is-right-for-you-1322700

Rao, L. (2011, December 02). Sexual Activity Tracked By Fitbit Shows Up In Google Search Results. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://techcrunch.com/2011/07/03/sexual-activity-tracked-by-fitbit-shows-up-in-google-search-results/

Sarah. (2018, January 25). Why a Fitbit Harms More Than Helps Your Health and Fitness Goals. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/fitbit-health-concerns/

Van Blarigan, E. L., Kenfield, S. A., Tantum, L., Cadmus-Bertram, L. A., Carroll, P. R., & Chan, J. M. (2017). The Fitbit One Physical Activity Tracker in Men With Prostate Cancer: Validation Study. JMIR Cancer, 3(1), e5. http://doi.org/10.2196/cancer.6935

Weinstein, M. (2016, December 21). What Your Fitbit Doesn’t Want You to Know. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-weinstein/what-your-fitbit-doesnt-w_b_8851664.html

Image from: https://thenounproject.com/term/security-camera/87679/

 

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