Lifelogging: why and to whom is our information from fitness and health apps being sold

Recently LifeHacker published a very interesting article about why our information/data logged by a plethora of health/fitness apps is being sold.

What exactly is personal information? According to Jones [1] there are 6 types:

  1. Controlled by (owned by) us:  Email messages in our email accounts; files on our computer’s hard drive.
  2. About us: Credit history, medical, web browsing, library books checked out.
  3. Directed toward us: Phone calls, drop-ins, TV ads, web ads, pop-ups.
  4. Sent (posted, provided) by us: Email, personal web sites, published reports and articles.
  5. (Already) experienced by us: Web pages that remain on the Web. Books that remain in a library. TV and radio programs that remain somewhere in “broadcast ether.”
  6. Relevant (useful) to us: Somewhere “out there” is the perfect vacation, house, job, lifelong mate.

What is lifelogging and why is it personal?

Lifelogging is performed by many apps on our mobile devices. They can keep record of our exercises, log our sleeping behaviour, movements, pregnancy, etc. Based on the division above lifelogging falls in between 1st, 2nd and the 4th group.

  • In the fourth group is information we enter in the apps ourself. For example name, surname, weight, food we eat, etc. Some apps even require constant updating of some of this information (e.g. weight).
  • In the first group falls information that we enter ourself and information that is automatically logged. We control such information on our devices. We can delete logs, cache and even apps. We can change names, surnames, email addresses, etc.
  • The second group is where the root of the problem lies - our information gets uploaded to the servers of such apps.

Drawbacks

Potentially this data that we have no control over and accumulates in the cloud could be used against us. As most of such apps are free to use, developers must have a profitable business model (sadly even the paid apps do it) -  sell our information to whoever is prepared to pay for it. Let's see who is prepared to pay for it.

  • The main group is advertisers that are interested in targeting a specific user based on hers/his behaviour.
  • Then there are insurance companies that are interested on our well being (sig) and can adjust insurance plans accordingly. And remember that insurance companies can find our information on Facebook as well.
  • And there are probably many other interested parties including government agencies and others.

Benefits

However there are some benefits as well. The immediate benefits of the upload of such information are: a backup, synchronised multiple devices, and a computational power that can suggest various things to us - users. And there are long term benefits as well. Besides augmenting our health records and help doctors in diagnosing particular conditions, personal reflection on lifelogged information can improve our well-being [2].

CHI2013 talk: Echoes from the Past: How Technology Mediated Reflection Improves Well Being from Ellen Isaacs on Vimeo.

In the era of Quantified_Self it is very difficult to draw the line between how much and what information are we willing to share to keep the balance between benefits and drawbacks of such apps. For one, we can use fake information about us. But then the social aspect of these apps in jeopardised. And we can go on ...


[1] William Jones. Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management. Morgan Kaufmann; 1 edition (October 31, 2003). ISBN-13: 978-0123708663 ISBN-10: 0123708664

[2] Isaacs, E., Konrad, A., Walendowski, A., Lennig, T., Hollis, V., and Whittaker, S (2013). Echoes From the Past: How Technology Mediated Reflection Improves Well-Being. Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA. Nominated for best paper award.

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BeginnerGuitar on :

Most free apps make money by selling private information. So they are not free. To protect ourselves, we can use fake name and information.

mkljun on :

True!

Even if apps don't collect data and they just serve adds I wouldn't call them free. As I wrote above these apps are "free to use" - where free means that we are not forced to use them. So not free as in free beer but free as in free speech. And as I wrote above, many apps that we pay for (to support developers or get rid of adds) sell our data as well. Sad!

One possible way around this is to use fake email and info as you suggest and as I wrote above. But as many data loggers want to share their information with their social circles this might not be an option for everyone.

One option might be a basic legislation in place to protect users in this area.

But if we prevent them from selling our data I guess that than we wouldn't have "free" (as in free beer) apps. And we have to admit that the majority of users perceive these apps as free and don't really think about giving up some of their privacy (which is actually just paying for the apps with your data). And maybe we wouldn't have a plethora of apps to choose from as there would be no revenue for developers. This might be a knot hard to untangle ...

If we as users do pay for apps with our data we do not really know how much our data is worth. Maybe the legislation might just require companies to publicly reveal the value of data of each individual and them we as users might get more concious and decide if the apps is worth the money.

With our data we don't just pay for apps ONCE. We are constantly paying ALL THE TIME!

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