Fitness – but not for that purpose?

I was both saddened and amused to read that FitBit, an activity tracking device that monitors your level of exertion during your daily activities, has emerged as a tell-tale device as well.  NFL correspondent Jane Slater tweeted:

We can laugh, of course, but it’s yet another reflection of how personal privacy has almost disappeared with the advent of ubiquitous consumer electronics.  Consider these facts:

  • If you buy a modern CPAP device, information on your sleep habits (including date and time of sleep sessions, the level of sleep, etc.) is automatically passed to a central monitoring service, where the details are recorded – basically forever.  The service claims it’s to monitor your health, but if someone wanted to prove you were sleeping when you should have been (or claimed to be) doing something else, the evidence is right there.  Only if you disable that data transmission can you regain that privacy – and some providers won’t allow you to disable it.
  • If there’s an unexplained vehicle accident, law enforcement can now get information from cellphone service providers about any and every device that was in the area of the accident before, during and after it.  Whether or not you were involved, even if you have location services turned off on your phone, mobile phone tracking can pinpoint every single cellular device that was there at the time.  If you were just an innocent passerby, the technology doesn’t know that – so your name, and contact information (from your cellphone provider’s records) are going to be passed to police without so much as a “by your leave”.  Those records can also be obtained by lawyers during divorce or other civil proceedings, to prove their case.
  • Military security has also been impacted by FitBit and similar devices.

There’s only one way to avoid such intrusions, and that is not to carry any device that can be tracked, or that reports and/or records your activities.  I try to do this with my cellphone from time to time, because I don’t want to be tethered to it 24/7/365, constantly at its beck and call.  I’d rather leave it at home.  I’ve also disconnected the communications device on my CPAP machine, and informed its supplier that I’ve done so, so that they don’t keep trying to have me bring in the machine to “repair the defect”.  My sleep habits are none of their business!

Sadly, very few people appear concerned about this level of electronic intrusion into their privacy.  I’m obviously among a dying breed who regard personal privacy as a sacrosanct right.  The rest of the world, particularly the commercial world, clearly does not.



  1. You're right that too many people just accept this level of intrusion. One of my daughters tells what she thinks is a funny story: after she mentioned Brand Name X in a face-to-face conversation while her cell phone was turned off and in her pocket, suddenly ads for Brand Name X started showing up whenever she used the Internet.

    She thinks it's funny because the spies got it wrong: her actual words were "I would never buy anything by Brand Name X."

    And it doesn't even scare her when I say that any day now they'll improve the natural language function of their spy devices by recognizing and understanding the whole sentence.

    Reason 1,001 that the smartphone the family foisted upon me lives in the underwear drawer.

  2. It can work in your favor as well, believe it or not. An acquaintance was accused of assault by an ex-gf and proved his innocence with his phone records. It showed he was many miles away during the time he was supposedly beating her. Not great evidence, but better than her unsupported word.

  3. Google just bought FitBit. With Google's solid track record of respect for privacy and civil rights there is certainly no cause for alarm.

  4. There's a reason i semi-randomly say, to nobody in particular, "They shoot spies, don't they?"

    And I wonder how long before certain areas (starting with restrooms, perhaps) of new building for some employers will be Faraday-caged. Partly for privacy, but mainly to keep people from fiddling phones instead of working.

  5. My wife got me a fitbit. I took it off after the Google purchase that's the end of that. I know how far my various walks are now.

  6. I wish there was something like fitbit that was not networked. My info can be useful to me and I'd have no problem with having to physically hook it up to my computer to get the data out.

  7. Google: "All your steps are belong us!"

    Former Fitbit users: "Count silence!"

    For alternatives, look at old fashioned pedometers to count steps, or a dedicated GPS receiver (only) that allows you to record and mark tracks.

  8. Infidelity has been around as long as marriage has.
    Victims of infidelity can now use technology to discover their partners' cheating.

    I'm not saying the overall loss of privacy is a good thing, but it's a good thing for victims to have this information. That's how I discovered my Ex-wife's cheating; I was fixing a problem with her email account.

    Also, in case you're unfortunate enough to be such a victim, here's a good website: Surviving Infidelity.

  9. A few years ago there was a report that military fitness tracker users were uploading their exercise tracks to a not very well secured web site. Turns out you could see where and when the troops were circling the base for their runs. Their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Not exactly what you want exposed to your enemies.

  10. The general lack of privacy in this world concerns me immensely.
    When you're alone inside your own residence and you STILL hear loud voices blasting into your apartment unit from the hallways, or loud conversations and motor noise from the parking lot just outside your window, that's the true definition of "oppression"—no escape from the elements of society and the world into a realm of your own making.

    God created the concept of "privacy" because He understood the need for us to have a refuge wherein we could lose our inhibitions and cut loose from time to time
    …same way he created confidants and lovers from the understanding that we also need someone around whom we could let go of our inhibitions and "get wild" once in a while.
    In a world where most everyone is a "stranger" we need that occasional "escape" which the modern world does not see fit to entitle us to. We're expected to just "keep everything bottled up inside" and to be "eternally polite, scripted, and appropriate" 24/7.

  11. It's worse than you think. Neighbor across the street relies on a CPAP machine. If he turns off the telemetry, his insurance won't pay for it or the supplies. So give up your privacy and keep your health, or keep or privacy and give up your health. Heck of a choice.

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