On August 31, 2023, Fitbit and Google have come under fire (again) for the way the tech giant has handled its users’ potentially sensitive health data.
the Best fitbits They are great devices that monitor your heart rate, sleep, calories burned, workouts, menstrual patterns, and more. But for a long time, concerns have been raised about how this data is being used, and especially whether it is being used to supplement Google’s massive data-driven targeted advertising operation.
So where does all your data go? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer: Google and Fitbit have remained tight-lipped, insisting that data is used responsibly and only shared for necessary processing purposes, or with user consent. Other parties have tried to dig into how Fitbit’s health data is being used or take Google to task for its lack of transparency, with varying degrees of success.
Of course, all fitness trackers and smartwatches collect and store data, from the best Apple watches to the best Garmin watches, so the case of Google and Fitbit is not unique. However, the size and scope of Google’s advertising and data collection operations may have caused it to be more closely scrutinized than other manufacturers of fitness wearables.
We’ll break down the whole story in the interactive timeline window below, from when Google first began its Fitbit acquisition in 2019, to the latest complaints that could result in billions of dollars in fines.
Why should you care what happens to your health data?
Big data is big business. Targeted advertising is already very smart, convincing you to spend money based on your online activities, but adding GPS and health data from a fitness tracker can create an almost complete picture of who you are. Targeted advertising alone may not necessarily be a bad thing in itself (after all, if you’re going to advertise to yourself, you’d probably prefer to be shown products you’re interested in) but we don’t know who has access to all of our data, or how much of that data is anonymized before Share it with third parties for processing.
according to An elite group of economists from major European universities“Combining Fitbit health data with other Google data creates unique opportunities to discriminate and exploit consumers in healthcare, health insurance, and other sensitive areas.”
Could data from our smart watches be used to raise health insurance premiums? Could the US government access menstrual tracking data to understand more about who has abortions after Roe v. Wade is overturned? Is GPS information transmitted from our watches to advertisers (or even the police)? These are very extreme examples of serious privacy violations, and while none of the above is likely to happen very often, without strict privacy laws, this is what our future could look like.
Fitbit users simply don’t know where their data goes without full transparency and information requests from charities such as None of your business, or NOYB, doesn’t amount to much. Fitbit reported on August 2022 Post on Redditshown in the timeline above, will comply with government requests for sensitive health data.
All smartwatches collect sensitive health data. Apple, which doesn’t rely on online advertising in the same way as Google, is keen to stress that any health data shared on iCloud is end-to-end encrypted, and has Refuse government requests to open devices before. However, this doesn’t mean that Apple Watches are necessarily “better” or “more secure” than Fitbit, as things can change very quickly in Silicon Valley.
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