Personal data is the real value of #wearabletech

That's a lot of dataIn the smart wristband market, there’s a land grab going on right now – not just to sell you a wearable technology device, but to get hold of your data.

How personal is your data? Surely there’s not much that’s more intimate than the information that smart wristband users are logging via their phone app or a website:

  • Your weight – both current and aspirational? Check.
  • How much you moved? Check.
  • What time you went to bed, how long it took you to fall asleep, how long you slept, and how often you woke up? Check. Check. Check. Check.
  • Any exercise? Check.
  • Any significant exercise for more than a couple of minutes? Check.
  • What you ate and drank? Check.
  • Your heart rate? Check.
  • Blood pressure? Check.

All that’s just for starters: devotees of the Quantified Self go much further in logging their body’s input and output. (Today’s post: Donate your spit for science!)

All this personal bio data is becoming a goldmine. Every time smart wristband users sync their devices, they are contributing to the huge pile of data that the vendors are amassing – which is increasing in commercial value.

Although there is little public discussion of this topic right now, WearableTechWatch predicts that as smart wristbands become more mainstream, so the issue of privacy and data liberation (your right to download all the information that an organization has collected about you) will come more to the forefront – as it has with social websites like Facebook. 

And right now, not a single wristband vendor is offering its users the chance to opt-out of sharing their anonymized data. Nor is that going to change, because your personal stats run in the cloud, and not on your device or a local PC or smartphone. Unless you are downloading or interpreting your data locally on a PC or phone (and we can’t see any vendor bothering), this will remain the case. 

Facebook profiles can be worth up to $120 for the personal user data they contain. That’s the high end, and data from smart wristbands isn’t commanding big bucks just yet. But think about the value of this personal data to a life insurance company, when assessing the premiums for new policies.

Worse still, what happens when insurers start using this bio data to determine whether or not existing policy holders were negligent in not exercising enough to avoid a heart attack? (And if they can, they will). Suddenly, the “cool little wristband” becomes a fashion accessory out of Big Brother.

Mobile Health News reports a claim by market research firm NPD that Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike accounted for 97 percent of smart wristband sales in 2013. Of the big three leaders so far, both Jawbone and Fitbit do now allow users to liberate their data, but Nike does not. Incidentally, Jawbone is also using Tumblr to showcase some of the insights it gains from users’ stats: think of this as a nice shop front for its big data sales.

How do I export my personal data?

That's a lot of data

That’s a lot of data

How can individuals get hold of the statistics they’ve accumulated from wearing a smart wristband 24×7? For example, what if you switch from a Fitbit to a Jawbone, and you want to consolidate your data across devices? That’s starting to become possible with Jawbone and Fitbit devices, but you’re still going to need a spreadsheet whizz to make it look as pretty as it does on the vendors’ dashboards, like in the screenshot above.

  • Jawbone has teamed up with the Internet of Things site IFTTT, as detailed in this earlier post, making it easy for users to export their daily stats to, for example, a Google Drive spreadsheet
  • Rival Fitbit shares data with the free-of-charge Microsoft HealthVault, described as “a trusted place for people to gather, store, use and share health information online”. Fitbit also allows users to Tweet their stats (this will quickly become as tired as FourSquare check-ins)
  • However, Nike allows only stat-sharing via Facebook and Twitter, with no sign of any ways of exporting data

As more smart wristbands come to market, so do the options for downloading your stats. The yet-to-launch Garmin Vivofit (which, disappointingly, looks like a Chinese copy of the Fitbit Force) seems to offer what looks like the widest selection to date of options for data export.

However, other new devices aren’t offering such transparency. LG says its new LifeBand Touch is compatible with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper “and other popular fitness apps”, but it is yet to provide further details of what it is doing with your data. And since this band includes GPS and an altimeter, it has the potential to collect a lot of personal info.

So will consumers buy a device like the LifeBand or the Jaybird Reign, whose FAQ is yet to even mention what happens to your data, or how you can get at it, when other vendors are offering far greater transparency? In the year of the smart wristband, both data liberation and transparency are going to count.

/WTW

12 Responses to Personal data is the real value of #wearabletech

  1. Sobering summary of the background drivers in this new industry. I thought it was interesting at the Wearable Tech Conference that some companies were also talking about “bio-resumes” and biometric monitoring of employees for optimizing performance. I’m seeing this as the leadership challenge of the 21st century. The technology is inevitable.

  2. Brenda McCaffrey PhD says:

    Hi Simon,

    Wow, this is a great post. I think you’re right on target.

    -Brenda

  3. […] week, I talked about a backlash to wearable technology. Simon Jones, in his comment, pointed to a recent post where he raised the very pertinent point – your personal data has value. Today, I’d like to […]

  4. […] imagine this: Your personal bio data – which is increasing in value, as documented in this post – is being captured and interrogated. This gives raise to a number of pretty scary questions […]

  5. […] insight into how their physical activity and driving patterns are connected”. As this blog commented in January, it’s all about the data. And it underlines Jawbone’s already-huge lead over principal […]

  6. […] We first remarked on this in January, and noted a couple of weeks ago that the race for data collection was gaining momentum. […]

  7. […] imagine this: Your personal bio data – which is increasing in value, as documented in this post – is being captured and interrogated. This gives raise to a number of pretty scary questions […]

  8. […] insight into how their physical activity and driving patterns are connected”. As this blog commented in January, it’s all about the data. And it underlines Jawbone’s already-huge lead over principal […]

  9. […] We first remarked on this in January, and noted a couple of weeks ago that the race for data collection was gaining momentum. […]

  10. […] now suddenly a premium feature, which sadly appears to rule out the entire Fitbit range. It’s MY sleep data, so why the heck should I pay to get it […]

  11. […] did we let the recent “Rashgate” or Fitbit’s questionable data ownership policies get in the way: A looser fit on the strap is fine, and we use IFTTT to liberate our data from […]

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