Is your smart device a smart choice?

February 28, 2022
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David Savage, Group Technology Evangelist at the Harvey Nash Group, talks about the considerations you might want to make when using a fitness tracker.

At the end of a run I slow to a walk, and hit stop on my Garmin. A few moments later I save the ‘activity’ (to use Garmin’s lingo) and wait for it’s assessment; ‘unproductive’. I might be breathing hard, sweating and feeling good about my efforts, but they’re immediately diminished by the smart tech sitting on my wrist.

It’s a little deflating and makes me question the validity of the insights being delivered by the platform.

7 or 8 runs out of 10 are classed as unproductive, but my fitness feels like it’s improving, and a few weeks ago I ran a personal best time over a half-marathon distance. How trustworthy are those data-driven insights?

Data drives our consumer relationships

We’re obsessed with data. Since the emergence of the smart-phone apps have appeared at an astonishing rate.

Business has shifted how it interacts with, and understands the consumer. Billions are spent having a better connection with all sorts of digital incentives on offer. 

Turn on the television in the United Kingdom and you might well stumble across an advert by the insurance firm Vitality offering an Apple Watch Series 7 in return for health or life insurance.

The company put forward the idea that this is a way to get healthier with Vitality and Apple Watch, with activity points and cheaper deals on offer if you move and earn points. Whilst your health will improve, at what cost?

Smart devices are collecting huge amounts of data. How many steps we take, how our heart behaves, how often we exercise, and how well we sleep.

That data may well be put to good use by organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organization) in better understanding trends and coming up with preventative measures for certain conditions and illnesses. 

Are we fully conscious of how our data is collected and used?

But how many Fitbit users are really fully aware about the level of data they’re giving to Google? Tech giants regularly partner with health authorities.

In 2019 Google purchased DeepMind’s health division and the NHS app Streams (before ditching it last year), which involved patient data from the Royal Free Hospital in London moving to Google’s own cloud platform infrastructure.

Partnered with smart device data that’s a huge level of information on an individual and a lack of transparency about how it’s being used. Can we be sure the information isn’t being given to third-parties or insurance firms?

Vitality is not the only insurance firm to collaborate with a tech giant. A 2016 collaboration between Facebook and Admiral was disallowed.

Whilst schemes may well be based on a  positive basis, what happens if you’re deemed unfit, or inactive. Could you see higher premiums or even be refused cover?

How data collected by our devices in an age where data is so important is troubling. Consumers are not in full possession of the knowledge needed to make informed decisions, and the data collected may not always be accurate.

I’m not a data point

My opening point was supposed to highlight that we’re human, not data points.

Marketing and tech firms might see us differently, but I know how my body responds better to certain exercises than my smart watch.

I am an avid Garmin user, it’s platform is detailed and useful, but as we enter Lent, a period of reflection where many make positive health choices and you might buy a fitness tracker or smart device.

If you do, don't take what it tells you too seriously, and perhaps question how the data it's collecting is used.

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