Fitness trackers are a multi-billion dollar industry. From Fitbit to the Apple Watch, more people than ever are turning to smartwatches and the like to help take better control of their health and well-being. However, aside from helping to improving health, some trackers may pose a risk to personal privacy. These devices have the ability to track locations and collect personal data about their users. Last year, Google acquired Fitbit in a $2.1 billion USD deal. This further stirred fears regarding privacy due to Google’s poor track record of data collection and misuse. If you, like so many others, made a new year’s resolution to get fit and either bought or are considering buying a piece of wearable tech, here’s how you can increase your fitness tracker privacy:
- Read the user agreement
- Limit the data a company can collect
- Secure your account
- Make your profile private
- Be wary of connection requests
- Watch the news
Read the User Agreement
When you unbox your new smartwatch, step counter, or similar device, the setup process will almost definitely include creating a profile to associate with your data. One step in setting up the profile will be to accept a user agreement. Although almost all of us are guilty of clicking “accept” without actually reading the terms of the agreement, it’s becoming ever-more important to read what we are consenting to, as companies increasingly try to leverage our data. By reading the user agreement before you accept it, you’ll have full knowledge of exactly what information an organization is collecting, what they may do with it, how long they can keep it, and more. If you understand these terms, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to surrender your data.
Limit the Data a Company Can Collect
In some cases, a company may give users the option to select the strength of their fitness tracker privacy. If this option is available to you, choose the settings that allow the tracker to collect only the data you want to know about. For example, steps counted but not locations visited. Apps often collect more information than they actually need to function so by limiting their abilities, you limit their impact on your privacy. In addition, frequently take a look back at your privacy settings to check for “data creep” in which an app may secretly re-enable certain data collection features that you have turned off.
Secure Your Account to Improve Fitness Tracker Privacy
While many of the companies behind wearable tech harvest user data, they aren’t the only ones who want it. It can be useful to hackers too, especially if your profile includes contact information (like your address, email, and more). Keep your data safe from breach risks by improving overall account security. You can do this by setting a strong, unique password and enabling two-factor authentication if it’s available. This can help protect your information in the event of a data breach.
Make Your Profile Private
In many cases, the profiles that pair with fitness trackers allow you to connect with other users. With this function, you can see your friends’ profiles and even set up friendly competitions. However, if your profile is public, it may negatively impact your fitness tracker privacy. Your profile may share information about you, like your address and name, that you wouldn’t want a stranger to be able to see. Avoid this problem by setting your profile to private instead, so you know strangers aren’t learning anything about you that you wouldn’t want them to know.
Be Wary of Connection Requests
Even if your profile is set to private, the connections you make through your fitness tracker may still be able to see information about you. In most cases, if you know the people you are connected with, this isn’t an issue. After all, your friends and family probably already know that information about you. However, that means people should be extra prudent about connections and not accept any from people they don’t know, even if the community aspect of fitness trackers is highly enticing. Before accepting requests from people you think you know, it’s also prudent to check with the person to be sure they are the one behind the request.
Watch the News
Data breaches are in the news all the time. By keeping an eye on the news, if the company behind your fitness tracker falls victim to a breach, you’ll have a heads up that you need to re-secure your account by changing its password, hopefully before any damage is done to your privacy.
If you do buy a fitness tracker, make sure you get the lowest price by shopping with a VPN.