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Don’t exercise? Your Fitbit can prove otherwise

Fitness bands might be a great new way to automate and compile body shame, but tracking our physical health in an increasingly connected world adds even more baggage to the weight we’re already carrying around.

Data from fitness bands is useful to everyone from insurance companies to advertisers. The New York Times reports that life insurance company John Hancock is slated to begin collecting health and fitness data from willing clients as proof of lifestyle choices. When the insurer sees data that suggests an active, healthy lifestyle, the insured’s premiums become more lucrative.

For those who exercise and eat well, it’s a win-win, but those without the time or money to do so, fear future insurers may punish them for lifestyles they can statistically prove to be unhealthy. The dark side of discounts for healthy data is surcharges for unhealthy or no data.

Enter Unfit Bits, a group exploring DIY methods of spoofing fitness bands to report data corresponding to a healthier lifestyle than the wearer is living. They say DIY because their methods are not particularly technological, consisting of strapping fitness bands to metronomes, pendulums, power drills and other household oscillators to simulate activity.

“These techniques help produce personal data to qualify you for insurance rewards even if you can’t afford a high exercise lifestyle,” their website reads.

In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, cryptologist and computer security expert Bruce Schneier fears a world of spoofing software in our increasingly computerized and connected consumer product landscape. “The Internet of Things,” the networking of computers in everything from our laundry machines to our pacemakers, is a new opportunity for businesses not just to cut corners, but to add illusory ones.

“Many industries are moving to add computers to their devices, and that will bring with it new opportunities for manufacturers to cheat. Light bulbs could fool regulators into appearing more energy efficient than they are. Temperature sensors could fool buyers into believing that food has been stored at safer temperatures than it has been. Voting machines could appear to work perfectly — except during the first Tuesday of November, when it undetectably switches a few percent of votes from one party’s candidates to another’s,” Schneier said on his blog.

Writing for e-flux, design curator and critic Justin McGuirk sees an even darker future, when the computerization meant to free human beings (and lower our insurance premiums) is turned against us in the name of efficiency.

“There are also security concerns: our houses become eminently more hackable the more connected devices we have. Experts evoke a cyber-security nightmare of ‘botnet’ armies using smart toasters to launch DDoS attacks, etc. But let’s concern ourselves with the ethical implications of the smart home. Because if we are in the midst of a subtle domestic revolution, its consequences are in new forms of labor, the erosion of privacy, and the monopolization of control,” McGuirk writes.

While we’ve yet to willingly embrace the networked dystopia tech academics fear, we are witnessing the beginning of the pre-digital legal world die off as it is subsumed by “disruptive” technologies. While before lawyers have relied on the testimony of medical experts to prove disability, Forbes reports a Canadian car crash victim is submitting her Fitbit data as proof, she can no longer lead the active lifestyle and deserves compensation.

“It’s always evolving with technology,” her lawyer said. “A number of years ago we saw courts requisition Facebook [for] information. If you’ve been wearing the Fitbit monitors, it’s likely you’ll see court applications to compel disclosure of that data.”

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