Millions of Americans wear a fitness tracker on a regular basis. Of course, these gadgets are designed to track everything from steps taken to calories burned and more. High-end fitness trackers from Fitbit, Garmin, and others even track a user’s heart rate throughout the day. Consumers love these devices because they keep track of various health metrics in near-automatic fashion. However, few users seem to consider the privacy and security risks associated with the average fitness tracker.
Fitness Trackers: Strap Them On and Move On
Simply put, individuals tend to don a fitness tracker and forget about it until the device requires charging. Dedicated users will check their health stats on the device or through its companion mobile app. Far too many people fail to realize how much data these devices collect each and every moment they’re worn. Most people care about this data for themselves because it helps them track their overall fitness. For outside parties, such health-related information may seem like a treasure trove of personal data.
Data, Data, and More Data!
Just think about how much data a fitness tracker stores. When a user first uses their tracker, they must connect to it via an Android or iOS app. In these apps, users supply their email address and basic personal information. This includes anything from age and gender to height and weight. Each fitness tracker then maintains a running ledger of an individual’s activities throughout the day. As previously mentioned, included metrics range from steps taken to calories consumed, heart rate, and much more.
The best fitness trackers allow users to plug even more data into the app and associated fitness tracker. For instance, Fitbit and Garmin devices allow their users to connect daily food intake information. Most devices will track when a person goes to sleep and when they wake up as well. All of this information is necessary to provide the best experience for users, and there’s no debate about that. Unfortunately, so much personal information about a single person can be used against them in worst-case scenarios.
Not All Companies Implement The Same Security Measures With Fitness Trackers and Apps
Every fitness tracker and associated app stores a user’s profile and information on a server. While these servers are often secure and protected, they aren’t impervious to hacking. Many people could benefit in nefarious ways by having access to health information on millions of people. Even healthcare companies, if given access to this info, could use it against individuals. Health data is one of the biggest targets for identity thieves and hackers today, but not all fitness tracking companies are protecting data as they should.
For example, not all companies encrypt the data they’re sending from the fitness tracker to the mobile app and then onto the company’s servers. Such data could be intercepted at various points, and unencrypted data couldn’t be easier to access. Another issue revolves around the MAC address of individual fitness trackers. At this point, most devices hold onto a persistent MAC address that never changes. Nefarious entities could track a user’s location by latching onto this MAC address, which is a completely different and problematic issue.
Is wearing a fitness tracker worth the privacy risks? For most people…Probably.
None of this information should deter an individual from using a fitness tracker if doing so benefits them in some manner. In the end, users simply need to realize the security concerns involved with using these devices. Current fitness tracker users should check into how the manufacturer collects, transmits, and stores users’ sensitive personal information. Every user should know how their data is used and which entities can access that information. Without a doubt, fitness trackers are useful devices, but plenty of privacy concerns exist today.