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Wearables data: Should you worry?

Monday - 9/1/2014, 6:06am  ET

jawbone861.gif
The Jawbone company's graph of compiles data from its UP fitness app. (Jawbone)

Could your wearables data be used against you?

Men's Health tech reporter Gregg Stebben says data gathered from wearable computers might harm you.

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By Gregg Stebben, Men's Health

WASHINGTON -- A day after California was hit by its strongest earthquake in 25 years, the Jawbone company, which makes a fitness band called UP, announced they could tell how far from the the epicenter the quake was felt, just by studying sleep data from thousands of their users.

Does this concern you? Maybe it should.

Data Danger #1

Someone is collecting lots of data about you, and in the wrong hands it could be devastating.

  • Data from sleep and fitness apps:

    What if your employer or insurance company got their hands on your fitness or sleep data? Could they raise your rates, or fire you, if they didn't like how and when you sleep and get exercise?

  • Data from driving and breathalyzer apps:

    Wow, you really like to party on Friday night. Or maybe you're sober, but you've been braking a little too hard. You're fired. And now you're uninsured, too.

  • Data from reading apps:

    So, you've been reading Rush Limbaugh's most recent book, or Al Gore's latest book, or "Fifty Shades of Grey"? Here at XYZ Company, we really don't approve of that. Please stop by HR to pick up your last check.

Data Danger #2

Sure, your data are protected now, but when was the last time you read every word of a User Agreement or Privacy Policy before clicking "Agree"?

And when was the last time you read an update on a User Agreement or Privacy Policy when it was emailed to you or displayed on the screen?

Nope, I don't read them very carefully either.

So when they change their policy and it says they can now share our data with anyone they want, we probably won't know, since we didn't read the fine print for ourselves.

(See below for how you can protect yourself, without getting a law degree and trying to read every word of the fine print for yourself.)

So, what can you do about it? Here are a few painful options:

  • Stop using some or all connected devices.

  • Turn off your connected devices when you are doing something "wrong." For instance, if your company gives you a fitness band and you know you won't be working out for a week because of pressures at work, take the darn thing off and turn it off. You have a choice to wear it or not, so why let it gather data about you that will reflect badly on you?

  • Google all EULAs and Privacy Policies to see what privacy experts say about them.

  • Pay for trackable online accounts with refillable gift cards, instead of credit cards. This will let you pay anonymously since refillable gift cards cannot be traced back to you.

  • Make up lots of bogus accounts, with bogus user names. Sure, it will be some work for you to keep track of it all, but it can also do a good job of hiding your identity.

  • Give up.

Data Danger #3:

With all the sharing via social media, my suggestion is, "think before you tweet."

After all, once you tweet something, or post it on Facebook or Instagram or as a comment on your favorite website, it may stay there forever to haunt you.

Follow @GreggStebben, @WTOP and @WTOPtech on Twitter, and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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