back to article It's all in the wrist: Your fitness tracker could be as much about data warfare as your welfare

Last year I bought one of those nifty new fitness tracker wristwatches. It counts my steps and gives a me bit of a thrilling buzz on when I've reached my daily goal. A small thing, but it means a lot. This means I'm always under surveillance – in the best possible sense, my fitness tracker has its eye on me, continuously …

  1. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    I got a tracker earlier this year. Used it to see how far I walk. Don't wear it now because if I walk the same distance, I know how far I've walked!!! I don't need a patronising device to give me a gold star for walking x steps a day.

    1. DJ Smiley

      So you wasted money, effort, materials all to prove you don't know how to use a map to figure out a distance? Bravo.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Or he's measured how far he walks around the office on a typical day...

        1. Tomato Krill

          For certain, ill-defined values for 'typical'

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        I take it you have never actually properly measured a route an a mapping app manually.

        I'm a runner and before the tech got good enough and cheap enough I measured distances on a paper map with a divider or got the bike out (it had a clicker). Then when Google Earth arrived I spent hours planning and measuring routes. With identifiable landmarks denoting every 3mile interval. I now use those to ensure my pace watch is calibrated properly.

        I use a footpod since testing of GPS shows it to be deficient on my routes. It must be calibrated.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well sure if all it does is measure your steps it is pretty useless. But what if it had other capabilities like tracking your heart rate, blood sugar, sleep cycles, blood oxygenation, arrhythmia, stress hormones, and so forth? Some of these don't exist in (cheap) trackers/watches today, but some do and the rest plus others will come over time.

      Remember where "smartphones" were 20 years ago? Most people felt like you do about your steps tracker, which is why hardly anyone wanted one especially at the prices they were charging. As they gained more and more capability they become something nearly everyone wants and uses in 2019.

      I think the same will be true of smartwatches/trackers (I hesitate to call them smart "watches" because that's probably the least useful part of their functionality to a lot of people given how we are surrounded by clocks everywhere we go but they need a display so may as well show you the time) As they add capabilities they will be seen as useful by more and more people, and go beyond fitness to detecting evidence of health problems before symptoms become apparent when they are easier/cheaper to address - once it pays for insurance companies (or governments who insure the health of their citizens) to buy these devices for people then the market becomes as big as smartphones if not bigger.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        False utility

        Can't believe how many folk are happy to wear what looks like an electronic slug on their wrist. A me-to trend that will pass when boredom sets in.

      2. eldakka Silver badge

        Remember where "smartphones" were 20 years ago? Most people felt like you do about your steps tracker, which is why hardly anyone wanted one especially at the prices they were charging. As they gained more and more capability they become something nearly everyone wants and uses in 2019.

        For the last 6 months, I've left my phone at home for about 80% of the time. I generally haven't missed it while haunting the regular hangouts (work, home, shopping, friends houses).

        Frankly, I've grown tired of the expectation that one is always available - "why didn't you answer when I rang" "why didn't you respond immediately to my text/email/IM" - and so on. What was once a convenience, being able to contact someone or be contactable all the time, when out and about, I feel has become a burden as one is expected to be contactable all the time. So I am intentionally removing that expectation.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "Frankly, I've grown tired of the expectation that one is always available"

          Being self-employed, I need to have my phone handy during the day but I often don't answer after hours. I'll also let it go to voice mail if I'm talking with or out with somebody or on a job.

          I started ignoring the phone when a song lyric from Nik Kershaw got me thinking, "I'm sick of answering the call of Alexander Graham Bell's invention." There are a few people for whom I will pick up every time if possible or stop the car and ring them back right away, but just about everybody is going to have to wait. I've also had the phone company block text. I find it utterly useless and a waste of time. Yes, there are a few times when I can't talk and sending a quick note might be handy, but I find it takes far longer to text back and forth than talking to somebody. I have a stack of email address that high if somebody needs to send me information or a file.

      3. quxinot Silver badge

        Not really. The idea of using tech to measure walking distance for health is pretty silly.

        Are you fat? Then your activity is not adequate. Very easy to tell without tech.

        Measuring some of the important metrics is very useful (say, blood glucose), and the tech is getting better but clearly has great strides left. Cardiac rhythms should be caught at routine physical assessments, and potentially tracked after incidents; again the tech isn't great yet (holter monitors are a hassle, pacemakers difficult to install).

        Most people overthink being healthy and are looking for excuses or scapegoats, frankly.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Penal Tracking Bracelets ...

      ... for Fashion^H^H^H^Hcist Victims.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    WTF?

    "data warfare"

    Yes, there definitely is a data war going on : the one between my private life and all the tricksters who promise me trinkets in order to throw ads at me.

    And you want them to unite ? You actually want to have your life dictated by a database ? Are you out of your mind ?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: "data warfare"

      This article seems to be written by someone who doesn't know the value of their own data, otherwise they wouldn't be willing to give it away for... nothing.

      The health question is pretty easy, either you eat less, exercise more, or both. Repeat until you lose weight.

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

        Re: "data warfare"

        I think you are looking at a limited use case by limiting these devices to just health and weight loss. I use my Garmin primarily for helping with tracking performance across my swim, bike and run. And to be honest, it's been invaluable as opposed to the alternative which would be of employing a dedicated sports coach to do it for me - but I'm just not in that league.

        So in my view there is a trade-off of cost & service vs potential privacy infringements that I'm prepared to make in this instance. I'm also pretty sure Garmin aren't doing anything nefarious with my data as it would be too much of a PR disaster for them. Finally, in the 3 years I've been using their "Connect" service I've yet to see anything sinister arise that could have been put down to my sports data being used improperly.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "data warfare"

          Up voted for the precise and rich marketing speak. Do you work for one of those strategy boutiques or they just passed you a template for this post? They wouldn't dare paying you for this since it would also be a PR disaster.

        2. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          I'm wondering whether you can "sandbox" the Garmin app to prevent it from uploading data to anywhere else ... if that's possible, then you can enjoy both your tracker and peace of mind.

          1. bpfh Silver badge

            Re: "data warfare"

            Very possibly. But what stops Garmin from selling it on from there ?

        3. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          Kid has a vivofit jr. An account is required to get the watch to show the time, so much for GDPR. Also no server-side storage should be required for any of the app features apart from setting up an online group to share results with if I wanted to, yet somehow I have to set one up anyway.

          Which left me unimpressed and determined to put the privacy settings on maximum (if they actually do anything) and not put any real names or information in the app.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "data warfare"

            Is the filesystem accessible? What OS does it run?

            If you could access the filesystem, you can possibly see if a file gets created (like .AppleSetupDone on Macs and iPhones). If so, you can "fake activate" it.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: "data warfare"

              Usually, the file system is not at all available and there's very little data about what exactly it does and how. I suggest people on Android who like the data of a fitness tracker check out the Gadgetbridge app from FDroid. It doesn't work with everything, but it can circumvent the need for manufacturer-provided apps for some such devices.

        4. Tikimon
          FAIL

          How delightfully naive

          "I'm also pretty sure Garmin aren't doing anything nefarious with my data as it would be too much of a PR disaster for them."

          Do you still believe they care? Has even one of the many data grabbing/hoarding/selling "PR disasters" caused the least bit of positive change in ANY company? Hell no! They say "Oh we're sorry, protecting the data we stole from competitors is really important to us. Oh and by the way, WHAT YA GONNA DO ABOUT IT? BWAHAHAHA!"

          The secret is out. Your outrage means NOTHING and they know it. A few days of press releases and it's back to business.

          1. moiety Silver badge

            Re: How delightfully naive

            I believe BWAHAHAHA has slipped out of fashion. These days it's all "We take our customer's privacy seriously and our first-rate team is fixing it right now". Still means BWAHAHAHA, of course, but looks better on Twitter.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How delightfully naive

            "We sometimes share or sell de-identified activity data with or to strategic partners and other third parties." https://www.garmin.com/en-US/privacy/connect/

            They first say they don't sell personal data but then admit they sell your personal data. Garmin Connect includes GPS so for many people jogging from home it is easy to find out who they are.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "data warfare"

        "This article seems to be written by someone who doesn't know the value of their own data"

        Well, to my family, the data is worth slightly more than the cost of health insurance. I'm in the UK, and yes, I know the NHS is very likely to give care of the same standard, and the health insurance will actually be worthless for emergency treatment, but read on...

        It's possible to get some pretty good discounts if you have health insurance that monitors your activity through your fitness tracker. Of course, you have to be already planning on spending money on flights, cinema tickets, coffee and amazon prime to actually do better than offset the cost of the health insurance in the first place.... and you need an employer who offers the right healthcare as a benefit, so you only have to pay tax on it, but it *is* possible to make a profit (on paper) from your fitness data.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          The marketdroid ACs are strong today.

          Discounts on coffee? You sell yourself so cheaply, and if you're interested in your health you should be cutting back on coffee anyway. Why on earth should private health insurance try to get you to drink more coffee?

          There are no discounts on private insurance in return for data, just raises for people who don't use the stalker app. See also "careful driver" apps.

          Living a healthy lifestyle can't be determined with a cheap bunch of electronics strapped to your wrist, you're just selling your location data to advertisers with your insurance company as acting as the broker rewarding you with cups of coffee.

          1. moiety Silver badge

            Re: "data warfare"

            Who's a good customer then. You are! Yes you are! Good customer!

          2. Jens Goerke
            Devil

            Re: "data warfare"

            > Why on earth should private health insurance try to get you to drink more coffee?

            Because they're not life insurance and don't have to pay for the funeral.

            A fatal heart attack or stroke is cheaper than keeping a mostly healthy person alive.

            1. Dan 55 Silver badge
              WTF?

              Re: "data warfare"

              So the perfect customer for a health insurance company is one that pays their first month and then drops dead?

              1. P. Lee Silver badge

                Re: "data warfare"

                One who drops dead rather than living long enough to get cancer, heart disease etc.

                I'd be all for trackers if they needed no online access. In the meantime, I can tell if I'm fat and I know I should exercise more.

                I don't understand the need to share the details with friends or corporations.

          3. tekHedd

            Re: "data warfare"

            Dan 55: "if you're interested in your health you should be cutting back on coffee anyway."

            My Doctor: "There are no health risks associated with coffee."

            Otherwise, um, I agree?

            1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

              Re: "data warfare"

              Dan 55: "if you're interested in your health you should be cutting back on coffee anyway."

              My Doctor: "There are no health risks associated with coffee."

              Me: "There may be a public health risk if I can't get mine in the morning"

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "data warfare"

            "You sell yourself so cheaply,"

            Not as cheaply as people who use any form of social media (I don't, apart from being an a nonny mouse cow herd here.).

            I wasn't going to mention the provider's name, but it's possible to get flights for a ridiculous discount via Vitality health. i.e. you can get flights at a big enough discount that you save enough money on a daytime flight in peak holiday season that it can even be cheaper compared to the cheapest budget airline taking off or landing at some ridiculous hour in the morning... The coffee is just a side benefit, as are the free cinema tickets twice a month (for the whole family).

        2. Barry Rueger Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          It's possible to get some pretty good discounts if you have health insurance that monitors your activity through your fitness tracker.

          Let me rephrase that for you:

          My health insurer charges me more if I refuse to wear an electronic tracker that tells them what I do.

        3. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          > Of course, you have to be already planning on spending money on flights, cinema tickets, coffee and amazon prime to actually do better than offset the cost of the health insurance in the first place

          This indeed. Also, cash benefits from the same provider, and discount on a bike, too (they cancelled that benefit this month, though). Overall, I think I'm in the "net zero cost" for the insurance, and the data I give it is garbage, too. Wrist tracker probably thinks I wank a lot, but I hit my"steps" target every day...

        4. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          It's possible to get some pretty good discounts if you have health insurance that monitors your activity through your fitness tracker.

          The problem I have with this is that insurance is supposed to amortise the cost of health services across the entire insured group.

          If different people are going to get different rates, you are defeating the societal point of insurance. If you drive up costs for one sector while reducing costs of another, then that sector that has to pay more will drop out of insurance entirely. Therefore reducing the income of the insurance schemes, thus driving up costs for those who remain anyway.

      3. OrientalHero

        Re: "data warfare"

        As an aside to the OP, you might think the exercise and diet algorithms simplify into calories out and calories in.

        But the whole point of the HIIT regime is to change the underlying metabolism so that even out of the active exercise period, the increased metabolism at rest has a higher calories out effect.

        And then you get the whole sprint vs marathon calorie output........

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: "data warfare"

          That's true, but having the data the device collects is not the problem. If you want to know how many steps you do, your heart rate, etc., this is a relatively cheap way to get that. The problem is that they all demand connecting to an app and then sync that data to the app and possibly their servers for who knows what purpose. Instead, they could have everything done on the device itself, or at least from an app that requires no network connection at all.

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    I'll stick with me old-fashioned watch

    at least it never watches me, nor does it claim to watch over me.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: I'll stick with me old-fashioned watch

      "it never watches me, nor does it claim to watch over me."

      That's what THEY want you to believe. Why do you think it's called a WATCH?

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: I'll stick with me old-fashioned watch

        Aha! So you've clocked it, eh?

        1. alexdonald

          Re: I'll stick with me old-fashioned watch

          It was only a matter of time...

  4. alain williams Silver badge

    Never trust software of which you cannot see the source

    And things like fitness trackers, central heating control systems, ... have them talk to a server that you trust - preferably your own.

    Unfortunately: the above is not possible for most people: they don't understand how to read program code or run a server; also most would not bother to even if they could.

    Even if the vendor is well meaning the poor coding & lack up security updates makes these things a security nightmare.

    So what is the solution ? Heavy government regulation just would not work: they would always be playing catch-up or impose blanket rules that would be hard/expensive to work with.

    The USA has been blathering overblown bollocks about Huawei while ignoring this much larger security issue.

    1. tekHedd

      Re: Never trust software of which you cannot see the source

      "Heavy government regulation just would not work: they would always be playing catch-up or impose blanket rules..."

      And that's a best-case scenario. In the US's "lobbyist first" congress, I would fully expect "heavy government regulation" to first make it impossible for small players to compete, and second make it illegal for individuals to control their own data in any way (ie reverse engineer server protocols to save your own data locally, make it illegal to subvert health monitoring...think of the worst thing you can imagine and then just wait 5 years basically).

    2. amusedscientist

      Re: Never trust software of which you cannot see the source

      Never trust software of which you can see the source.

      https://www.archive.ece.cmu.edu/~ganger/712.fall02/papers/p761-thompson.pdf

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Never trust software of which you cannot see the source

      "Never trust software"

      even when you can read the source. [for the truly paranoid]

      From the article;

      "this website uses cookies, please click ACCEPT"

      one of my favorite FF plugins is "cookie white list with buttons" which lets you whitelist certain cookies as being persistent (or mark them 'session only') and [best of all] optionally store the rest of the cookies IN MEMORY ONLY so you can dump them ALL whenever you want to, especially when closing the browser.

      [I'm considering my own webkit browser, and this feature SHOULD be a built-in]

  5. Splurg The Barbarian

    No, no, no, no, no!

    Not sure if that title is obvious enough! This data collection has to stop. It has to be looked into. When did it become acceptable that because something is a "computer" (smartphones, tablets, watches, TVs cars etc.) that the manufacturer can monitor its use, see what you are doing when using it etc? When did seemingly intelligent people decide yes I don't mind being tracked by a corporate identity yet in the same breath criticise governments for doing the same?

    For instance, not long bought a new Sony TV. It had reviewed well had features I wanted and advertised that it would have Dolby Vision added via an update. Tried to update in last few days and I can't because I rejected the "privacy" policy which told me they wanted to access every program/file watched, details of every device connected, how long it was used for, when it was switched off etc. As a sensible person I said no. I don't want a "smart" TV. Because of this I cannot use the TV as advertised. No mention of this in reviews, advertising etc, only after it is unboxed and used.

    How many others are like this? Why are they doing this? Simple, in this day and age companies no longer R&D properly, no longer test products no check they work properly. They sell half assed attempts and then strip all usage out of the device as we are their testers. They also make a fortune selling our data. We are commodities to them, no oversight, nothing.

    How has this happened, to many people giving it "nothing to hide nothing to fear" or distracted by the shiny-shiny. Hear about an idea, think it's good without every thinking of the consequences and the monster that has been released. Amazon and Google have convinced alledgedly intelligent people to place a listening device into their homes and hand over cash to them for the (dis)pleasure.

    So again, no,no,no,no,no. Needs to be far more fightback against this creeping, nay marching corporate surveillance society.

    Rant over.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: No, no, no, no, no!

      For instance, not long bought a new Sony TV. It had reviewed well had features I wanted and advertised that it would have Dolby Vision added via an update. Tried to update in last few days and I can't because I rejected the "privacy" policy which told me they wanted to access every program/file watched, details of every device connected, how long it was used for, when it was switched off etc. As a sensible person I said no. I don't want a "smart" TV. Because of this I cannot use the TV as advertised. No mention of this in reviews, advertising etc, only after it is unboxed and used.

      Well: return it to where you bought it saying that ''it is not as advertised''. The only way of changing the behaviour of the likes of Sony is to hit them in the pocket -- which is all that they care about.

      1. Splurg The Barbarian

        Re: No, no, no, no, no!

        The bloody annoying thing is the model I've got is the only one that does FLAD at the price point. Currently called them out about it on their Twatter feed & actually getting somewhere, slowly with them. They want the discussion out of the public though, funny that eh? I did ask if they would refund me the purchase cost as it is them I feel should be out of pocket rather than the retailer, but they did not take me up on it yet.

        With, for example, a Fire Stick I can understand why Amazon would know what I watch as it is linked to my account and they are supplying me a service and need to know what to send to my account etc. It's also my choice to use that, and I can limit what data they can take from the stick without losing service. That's not to say they are saints by any stretch. But this TV situation I think is extracting the urine.

        These type of things require more noise and people to realise exactly what these companies are up to and the consequences. Give them an inch and they take a yard!

        1. slartybartfast

          Re: No, no, no, no, no!

          Whilst a bit more of a faff, an hdmi cable from my computer to my TV serves all of my online TV viewing needs. Irony, of course, all the services I’ve signed up to are tracking me. At least the TV isn’t reporting all of my viewing habits though.

          1. quxinot Silver badge

            Re: No, no, no, no, no!

            Sign up for appropriate services and just pirate the content you want. Result, you get the content you paid for, and keep your privacy too.

            Therefore it's probably not legal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Splurg The Barbarian - Re: No, no, no, no, no!

      Au contraire, mon ami!

      Since we can't stop this continuous data slurping, let's find a brilliant way to pollute it with garbage data. I'm sure creative people could come up with solutions that will intoxicate those data sets.

      As an example, one can come up with a system that plays Hey, Google! or Alexa followed by citing a paragraph from Shakespeare in one of the spoken languages on Earth picked at random. You do this in a loop and have fun.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Splurg The Barbarian - No, no, no, no, no!

        It's fun in theory, but it's much harder to consistently continue spoofing your data in the real life. Additionally, if it becomes a large-scale issue for tech companies, they would/could/might develop an algorithm that recognizes spoofed data.

        1. illuminatus

          Re: @Splurg The Barbarian - No, no, no, no, no!

          "they would/could/might develop an algorithm that recognizes spoofed data."

          Costing them time and money. and not guaranteeing accuracy. The pissing in the data pool idea is actually a good one, especially if people do it to differing degrees at different times, because there's no pattern - almost like the brownian motion of bullshit. Brownian motion is perfect for that, as it's a great way to generate actual randomness, and that is difficult to filter out.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: @Splurg The Barbarian - No, no, no, no, no!

            But this requires a large amount of user buy-in. If a hundred users start spamming voice assistant things on average once a day, it will be nothing at all compared with the millions of users actually saying real things. Even if we scale it up to a thousand people and twenty times a day, it's still a drop in the bucket. That's one thing neural networks are useful for. We'd need a lot more junk data. If we try to automate it by recording specific things, they won't have to bother with the algorithm; they simply find the weirdest spikes in the data and delete that from the dataset, if they don't find the recording of "Alexa" or "OK Google" being used and program the units to stop recognizing it.

          2. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

            Re: @Splurg The Barbarian - No, no, no, no, no!

            Brownian motion is perfect for that, as it's a great way to generate actual randomness, and that is difficult to filter out.

            Actually, not perfect. Only zombies with a short little span of attention follow that path. Come to think of it, why are my nights so long? Cattle in the marketplace. Amen and Hallelujah! Na na na na, na na na na!

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: @Splurg The Barbarian - No, no, no, no, no!

        "Since we can't stop this continuous data slurping, let's find a brilliant way to pollute it with garbage data. I'm sure creative people could come up with solutions that will intoxicate those data sets."

        Oh no, I feel another Arduino project coming on.

    3. H in The Hague Silver badge

      Re: No, no, no, no, no!

      "Because of this I cannot use the TV as advertised. "

      V annoying and in many countries would mean the retailer is in breach of contract.

      A while ago while browsing the local consumer electronics emporium I noticed that the price tags for some TVs clearly stated something like "To use this TV you need to set up a Google(?) account and accept the terms and conditions." At least that shop is open about it.

  6. find users who cut cat tail

    But if I want to keep myself moving – and motivated – it makes sense...

    No, it doesn't.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Not sure if I understood the author

    He writes wonder how I'd feel if my fitness tracker fed all my stats to someone else – someone I wouldn't ever know – and never told me anything. but then seems to end in playdoyer for exactly this. Could the editors please pass him a copy of the GDPR so he can read that privacy by design means that applications that pass on personal data to others without an individual's explicit consent are breaking the law.

    These apps are nice but in the overwhelming majority of cases the data never needs to leave the user's devices or control. Not only can the data be used against you – and for this health data is probably only second to financial data – a lot of thick-as-shit algorithms will make poor suggestions based on poor science and misaligned interests.

    If such data does go onine it should always be encrypted and only available in detail to those with a legitimate interest. I know a lot of people like to share stuff using Strava, et al., there are other ways of doing this which are better protocolled and leak less.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Charlie Clark - Re: Not sure if I understood the author

      You're so good at dreaming! Please don't stop!

  8. Tony W

    Troll?

    I wonder whether this is a trollingl article, intended more to generate comments than as a sensible contribution to a debate. It argues two different sides and then with no proper discussion comes to an obviously nonsensical conclusion. Reg, what are you doing?

    1. Naselus

      Re: Troll?

      "It argues two different sides and then with no proper discussion comes to an obviously nonsensical conclusion."

      Could basically say this about al of Pesce's articles.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: Troll?

        Yeah, but you can say what you like about Pesce, but he GETS THINGS DONE. (I believe)

        (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/235415-you-know-who-i-pray-to-joe-pesci-two-reasons)

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Troll?

          That's a different "fish"!

  9. don't you hate it when you lose your account Bronze badge

    Eat well and be active

    Does fine by me. And only I have the data. Job done

    1. Tomato Krill

      Re: Eat well and be active

      Well you and the Reg readership now...

  10. c1ue

    There it is again: the belief that masses of data will be analyzed correctly, ethically and/or responsibly.

    I've been an Amazon customer since the turn of the millenium. Yet I still get pushed to buy books which I bought already through Amazon. Their recommendations are still crap in books and other areas.

    The ads I see - still are based on search history, mostly last item seen, as opposed to what I am actually looking for.

    Given these and any more real world experiences, it is very difficult for me to believe that "data shared is data squared".

    I think it is more likely that masses of data equate to larger pools in which black box data scientists conduct literal fishing expeditions based on pseudo-science and "measured results" as opposed to actual "science" or "intelligence".

    What is really amusing about this article - which appears sponsored by some data science guru or outfit - is that the title made me think about the fitness tracker hacks which were used to uncover secret military bases and what not, when in fact the article was more along the lines of "I, for one, salute our robot overlords"...

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Coat

      it is very difficult for me to believe that "data shared is data squared".

      Think of it like this: company offers you some free service that lets them harvest your personal data. Their value proposition to you is that the value of your data is roughly the value of their service. But, really, the value to them of your personal data is at least the square of that. They will, of course, never tell you what financial benefit they extract, or hope to extract, from your personal data. But this is asymmetric data warfare™ after all!

      Yes, Amazon's collaborative filtering stinks but I'm increasingly starting to think that this is deliberately so. They must have millions of people who only very occasionally get their tat from them so the "other people who bought XYZ also bought ABC…" is probably all they need. The real data is when they can combine data streams from different services from regular customers: Alexa, Prime, Video, Audible and soon Food. Meaning that they should continue to stock quinoa and beard wax in the depot closest to you. Along with Jeremy Clarkson fan items…

    2. quxinot Silver badge

      >Yet I still get pushed to buy books which I bought already through Amazon. Their recommendations are still crap in books and other areas.<

      I will agree that's annoying.

      But imagine if they were 100% accurate. While convenient, it'd be so creepy as to be frightening!

  11. oiseau Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Finally!

    ... probably wonder why I bothered to wear it ...

    Finally, there you go!

    Common sense at last!

    O.

  12. Andytug

    As usual, it's all driven by the bean counters. ££Profit to be made from analysing all that data and pushing people to buy more stuff, and more importantly (in their eyes) using software/AI to do it, no more expensive staff members to worry about. What's not to like?

    Apart from the fact that it doesn't work.

    Yet.

  13. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    OCD = Omnivorous Corporations' Data

    Long ago, I used to be amused by running friends who would click their watches off at water fountains and traffic lights. Why, if you are not the next Roger Banister, do you need a fitness tracker? When you finish a run or a workout, you know how you feel. What does the tracker add?

    1. BanburyBill

      Re: OCD = Omnivorous Corporations' Data

      In my case, it helps ensure I train in the planned heart rate zone and clearly shows performance improvements (or reverse). Definitely makes my training more effective.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: OCD = Omnivorous Corporations' Data

        Is this your training to get better at running to get the bus in the morning?

        Yes, athletes can make use of such data. But does this stretch to wearing a fitness band all the time and having your data transferred to MegaCorp's servers before you can look at it?

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: OCD = Omnivorous Corporations' Data

          "Yes, athletes can make use of such data"

          Yes, but. Athletes are looking for that .1% edge that separates a win from a loss in a highly competitive environment. They're building on a regime of hard workouts and a healthy lifestyle that most of us don't do. It's the dark chocolate brownies. They call to me day and night!

  14. FatGerman

    Sarcasm?

    "But if I want to keep myself moving – and motivated – it makes sense to open up my private world, strap a sensor on, and let it listen"

    It's hard to tell if you're being sarcastic or not but please tell me you are.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Sarcasm?

      'Strapping a sensor on and having it listen' doesn't automatically mean 'opening up one's private world'.

      I have no end of sensors; pedometers, heart rate, blood pressure, SpO2, blood sugar, temperature, weight, even a body fat analyser whose inaccuracy is always good for a laugh.

      But everything remains private because it is all self-contained, doesn't talk with anything else, doesn't share.

      It's just a matter of choosing the right tool. One doesn't have to become 'their data bitch'.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Sarcasm?

        "'Strapping a sensor on and having it listen' doesn't automatically mean 'opening up one's private world'."

        Yes, it does. The US military had to ban the use of fitness trackers on some bases as the data gets mapped and shown online. Training routines start becoming very apparent with 4D data. The really damning part was data taken at night that showed guard routes and timings.

        We are creatures of habit. Runners, walkers and bikers have favorite routes. We also tend to do things at regular times. Couple fitness tracker data with FB and other Big Data dumps and you can map somebody's life pretty well. The only way we can hide some of our habitual leanings is through obscurity.

        How easy would it be if somebody was targeting the company you work for and wanted to befriend somebody in the IT dept if they knew you went for a run each day around the same time and stopped by the coffee shop afterwards. Would you be less suspicious if you were to see this person doing the same thing over a period of time? You'd likely think that they're a neighbor and if they struck up a conversation, you might not worried too much about it especially if they were playing the long game. If they also bought a PII package on you, which is dirt cheap, they'd also turn out to have a similar background so you would both have a lot in common. Cool, possible friend material, right? The script almost writes itself.

        Fitness trackers are just gadgets that nobody really needs, but they seem cool. Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and don't smoke/ do drugs / drink too much. I don't need anything strapped to me to accomplish that.

        1. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: Sarcasm?

          "'Strapping a sensor on and having it listen' doesn't automatically mean 'opening up one's private world'."

          Yes, it does.

          No, it doesn't.

          Strapping a sensor on and letting it listen does not imply letting it then tell some remote server somewhere on the web. Your sensor can listen and tell your personal device and have the data go no farther than that. The soldiers wearing the things may have been blissfully unaware of the tracking that was happening with the devices, but that doesn't mean there's no choice other than have no sensing or having it all available on the web.

          The default if you simply buy the thing and strap it on and go is to blab data everywhere, but what isn't like that now? If you buy a Windows PC now, it blabs everything if you let it (and as long as you keep Windows on it and let it connect to the internet, it's going to do its damnedest to do so). If you buy a smart TV, it phones home and tells everything it has learned if you let it. You don't have to let it.

          If the fitness device won't work without a web connection, find another one.

  15. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Betty Boo!

    Ah 1990, so much to answer for

  16. Skwosh

    You just don't get it

    The author's point surely is that once one knows everything about everyone then anything is possible. Just imagine what could be achieved if all the various pieces of information so lovingly extracted from us every day were somehow brought together with all of the other data from everyone else (de-anonymized natch) – our lives could be enriched immeasurably – truly a new golden age would ensue – watched over by machines of loving grace we could be emotionally nurtured and considerately nudged away from bad choices and towards healthier options, our confusion and unsound reasoning about things like politics and other vexing issues of the day could be guided to follow the one true factually-correct evidence-based best-practice righteous world view of absolute rightness and any potentially pre-criminal like tendencies in our behaviour or negative opinions of others towards us could be picked up early thus facilitating timely enrolment in preemptive thought correction programmes in which we could be made repeatedly to learn flower arranging or interpretive dance until we come fully and genuinely to acknowledge the error of our ways. The possibilities are endless – and the more data that is collected the more immaculately perfect this most perfect of all futures could become.

    1. moiety Silver badge

      Re: You just don't get it

      That was poetry; have an upvote sir. Yeah, could happen, but my money's on an evil bastard manipulating the database for self-enrichment.

    2. The Nazz Silver badge

      Re: You just don't get it

      Have another upvote. I am just so, SO grateful that you made that post before amanfrommars did.

  17. BGatez Bronze badge

    Does it tell you phone down, work out?

  18. moiety Silver badge

    What the fuck did I just read?

    "I wonder how I'd feel if my fitness tracker fed all my stats to someone else"

    IF? You honestly think there's an "if" there?

  19. fishman

    Fit

    I just use the Google "Fit" app on my phone. I figure Google already has access to all of that data anyway.....

  20. Captain Hogwash
    Big Brother

    Re: as much about data warfare as your welfare

    Or even about real warfare. No point rounding up lard-arses if we need to conscript until we've run out of gym-bunnies.

  21. slartybartfast

    Step monitors are misleading anyway. You need to do at least ten minutes of brisk walking that gets your heart rate going and makes you sweat for it to be any benefit. People using these trackers to monitor themselves walking around their house are simply not getting adequate exercise and allowing the data to be harvested for nothing. Best thing to do is ditch the data harvesting tracker and aim to get more brisk walking exercise in.

    1. eldakka Silver badge

      Not true.

      If you do your 10000 steps over 24 hours and never break a sweat, just do a few steps here and there, it is going to be more benefit than if you did 5k steps in the same fashion (over 24 hours), which is greater than 2k, and so on. But it still takes energy to do that movement, less than doing the same movement at a greater rate (i.e. higher speed), but energy all the same.

      You will get more benefit doing those 10k steps in one hour at a run. But that is not necessary to receive any benefit.

  22. Alchemi

    I once worked for a big government contractor. Part of the health insurance was that if you tracked your steps and hit some goals, they would throw some money in a fund that would pay deductibles and such. I wore a little pedometer. At the end of the day I entered my steps by looking at the device then using the keyboard. Cool.

    Have we already forgotten the following articles?

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/01/29/us_pentagon_strava_tracking/

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/07/09/fitness_app_polar_data_leak/

    Is it necessary to have a third party track this information? Why can't we just have a pedometer and plug in the calculations ourselves?

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      'I once worked for a big government contractor. Part of the health insurance was that if you tracked your steps and hit some goals, they would throw some money in a fund that would pay deductibles and such."

      If you plug a device into your car's OBD port from the insurance company, they may give you lower rates based on your driving. They sort of fail to tell you anything about what data they gather and how they stack you up for those "discounts".

  23. Nick Kew

    Missing detail

    For the benefit of readers who've never played with those devices ...

    You tell us it counts steps. But if it lives on your wrist, how does it tell the difference between steps and other activity? Such as gesticulating wildly while on the phone, or indulging in the pleasures of the bedroom? What about exercise of the lower body while the wrist is steady - cycling on a good road surface?

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Missing detail

      Original pedometers simply had a weighted pendulum which closes a contact as it swings when walking which gets counted. The cheap ones and freebies with breakfast cereal often use that mechanism.

      More advanced microcontrolled devices will check rates of activation to determine if it's part of a sequence of steps or some other activation. They usually don't show the first few steps until it's convinced you are off on a jaunt. And the really clever ones will have accelerometers to more accurately discriminate what's a step and what isn't - It's amusing to knock-up a DIY version which decrements counts if one walks backwards!

      As for over or under counting while playing pocket snooker or racing a static bike - if expecting accurate results it's up to the user not to use it in a way it can't accurately track. And it's not realistic to expect accurate meaningful data anyway. The whole 10,000 steps hype is well over-rated.

      But if cycling, strap it to an ankle. If engaged in a game of naked push-ups, clamp it between your butt cheeks but make sure there's some thrusting so it sees some cyclic motion. You'll likely get a count but if not; a pretty firm butt is a free bonus.

      1. Nick Kew
        Joke

        Re: Missing detail

        Hmm. Regular activity. Would you say metronomic? No wonder our choir-and-orchestra conductor is thin as a rake, with all the exercise he gets.

        1. Kiwi Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Missing detail

          Perhaps you can tell me something...

          Hmm. Regular activity. Would you say metronomic? No wonder our choir-and-orchestra conductor is thin as a rake, with all the exercise he gets.

          Recently I was handed a DVD of a live performance of Jeff Wayne's 'War of the Worlds'. I have also, in many cases much to my shame and/or pain, witnessed many orchestral performances - some live, some from on stage, one from amongst the orchestra, most on TV.

          For many years I was a musician and even achieved some note within NZ circles, performing live quite literally hundreds of times and even appearing on TV (sorry no not saying who I am, or where or when! :) ).

          It was while watching the above-mentioned video that I again began to ponder one of the deeper mysteries of my life. Despite all my experience, there is still one musical mystery that remains to be solved for me.....

          What use is a conductor?

          I mean he (usually) stands there, madly flailing his hands about, while the musicians are paying attention to the sheets of music in front of them or to their instruments. The pace is set by percussion, the timing of the notes and what parts we play is all in the sheets, the conductor is of about as much note as any member of the audience, and as likely to be visible. And that's when they're not hidden behind other musicians or rather large instruments that dwarf even the most rotund opera star.

          When it came time for my solo, video shows that the conductor was pointing at me or at least madly waving in my general direction. I can tell you without the least bit of uncertainty that he was so very far from my thoughts that he didn't even begin to exist. All that existed was my instrument, the timing of the beat in my head from the now silent percussionist, and the dread that I might miss a note if I wasn't careful, and the sheer thrill of 'desire of a lifetime - on stage in his home town'[1]. Much going on up there, and no room to spare for some distant freak flailing madly.

          So pray, do tell.. What earthly use is there for a conductor? (musically speaking). I have so desperately wanted to know this! (I know what is said in 'official circles', I know what Wikipedia et al will say, but I am seeking the real truth here - not the toursity 'Oktoberfest' but the real party that is had when the tourists have all gone home.

          [1] Rez 'Tears in the Rain' on Youtube, from whence that line comes.

          1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Missing detail

            For many years I was a musician and even achieved some note

            WELL DONE!

            If you can remember which one, and then collect the others... you will have surpassed a lot of popular commercial artists performers.

            (sorry, the wording was just irresistible, have an upvote anyway)

    2. ecarlseen

      Re: Missing detail

      Depends on the product. I use an Apple Watch (yes, I'm one of those people) and it's scary-accurate at detecting what activity I'm doing. If I'm starting a workout and forget to tell it to start tracking that, it alerts me to start tracking and suggests which activity to track. It's almost always right. Allegedly it even works well for people with physical disabilities (wheelchair-based exercises, etc.).

      The biggest downside to the Apple Watch is that it *must* be used with an iPhone, period, no exceptions. It's also relatively pricey.

      On the plus side, it integrates into Apple's typically excellent "privacy-by-default" health data management system (all sharing is strictly opt-in, with fairly granular permissions that are fairly easily-removed if you want).

      The interchangeable bands are a massively overlooked feature. So far, all of the bands have worked between generations of watches - the bands I got for my first generation watch have continued to work perfectly through to the current generation. Changing bands takes literally five seconds - the mechanism is pretty ingenious, and the only issues I've had have been with cheap third-party bands. Why is this such a big deal? Because it means that I have one watch for all occasions. I can put on a plastic sports band and go running or swimming with it. I can swap to a metal or leather band and it looks great with a suit or business-casual attire. It can be color-coordinated with what you're wearing. No, guys typically don't care - but women tend to care and tend to notice guys that do (they also tend to notice shoes, big-time). Guys have been dressing for guys in the workplace for centuries, but with women entering more positions of power it's time to start paying attention to and accommodating the social cues that they look for as well. And this stuff doesn't exactly hurt outside of the workplace either.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Missing detail

        On the plus side, it integrates into Apple's typically excellent "privacy-by-default" health data management system

        Now you look like a very savvy gentleman. Might I interest you in a business deal?

        I happen to be the sole owner of the Wellington Harbour Bridge, and I am seeking investors for a unique business venture which will see you receiving a guaranteed 1,000%pa return. I'll even throw in a free upgrade to your current watch with even better privacy-by-default health management if you just sign on.

        Please ignore the slavering marketers and insurers behind me, and sign here. I will need the deed to your house, ownership papers for your car, a night with your wife, but I'll still feel like you're ripping me off, you're such an amazing business person with such big assets!

  24. ecarlseen

    Sadly, if you want privacy then your only real choice is Apple.

    Unfortunately, an anti-privacy tech economy has become pervasive and has conditioned people to free / very low prices for stuff in exchange for information about themselves. Apple seems to be the only major player taking a hard stand here, and they charge a very pretty penny for it. On the plus side, at least their products tend to be excellent so you do get something great for your money - but it's still an expensive habit. If you have to drink the kool-aid, at least it's pretty damned tasty.

    Apple Watch must be used with an iPhone, no exceptions. But the health-monitoring capabilities are top-notch, and Apple is raining money into R&D to make it better. Allegedly they have about thirty research medical doctors actually on the payroll in Cupertino working on this stuff - normally this is outsourced because MDs are expensive. Data is stored on the iPhone, can be viewed / graphed and managed by the end-user (down to deleting individual data points), sharing is strictly opt-in, controls are nicely granular, permissions are easily managed and revoked, and Apple at least puts some effort into policing the behavior of app developers (if they're willing to start throwing ban-hammers at the likes of Facebook and Google, then these smaller fish have plenty to worry about). They give their customers about as much power as is reasonably possible over gathering and controlling their health data. Having watched these features evolve, it's pretty clear that Apple considers these to be strategically-critical capabilities for their product lines.

  25. Archtech Silver badge

    A cure for which there is no disease

    "I'm looking forward to a day when my fitness tracker talks to both my GP and my grocer..."

    Or you could use your common sense, find out what amount and kind of exercise suits you best, what you should and should not eat and drink, get plenty of sleep, and avoid your GP altogether.

    As for the grocer, if you want to stay healthy it's wise to stick as far as possible to unprocessed, unrefined natural foods. In other words, things that either walk, swim, fly or grow in the ground or on plants.

    While the word "grocer" has expanded its meaning, I would recommend sticking mostly to the butcher, fishmonger, dairy and greengrocer.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: A cure for which there is no disease

      While the word "grocer" has expanded its meaning, I would recommend sticking mostly to the butcher, fishmonger, dairy and greengrocer.

      Amen to that!

      Switching to a more natural diet (and borrowing some landspace from a friend so I can grow my own) has made huge improvements to my life.

      Eschewing the generally more expensive 'super market' in favour of the butcher and green grocer has meant that usually I get my food at better prices, but ALWAYS I get food that is fresher and tastier than the garbage they serve at the bigger places. They may be able to buy up entire regions worth of crop as easily as I grab a drink of tap water, but they're never going to match the quality of the small places - those small places have to compete and the only things they can compete on are quality and service. That 'service' often translates into better prices for better products.

      But even if I paid 50% more for my food (which I don't, I usually pay much less), I'd be saving over all and be better off. It's certainly brought about big gains in my fitness and overall wellbeing just getting off the junk and getting better food. And I get to help my neighbours out as well.

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