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Workout privacy: Sacrificing personal info to shed pounds

Four fitness trackers are shown. They are, from left, Fitbit Force, Jawbone Up, Fitbug Orb, and the Nike FuelBand SE.

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – If there are two things we obsess about, it’s our weight and our privacy. Now, both of those deep-seeded concerns are colliding.

More and more of us are tracking our every move in an effort to remain healthy or get into better shape. It’s easier to do, thanks to online health applications, like My Fitness Pal, and wearable fitness bracelets, like Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and Jawbone, just to name a few.

Jack Mannino with Nvisium, a Herndon, Va.-based company that builds secure software for wearable technologies, says the industry is exploding in growth. Mannino says in a decade, this $14 billion industry will balloon to be a $70 billion industry.

He says, “We’re moving into a whole world where everything is tied together and there’s probably no end in sight to these things coming out.”

These technologies allow users to track everything you can imagine: calories in, calories burned, steps taken, sleep patterns and much more. ABC 7 News spoke with a number of elite personal trainers, athletes and everyday consumers about these products.

Lois Villemaire of Annapolis, Md. is a loyal Jawbone user.

“At night you just hit the button and it goes into sleep mode, and somehow it knows if you’re in deep sleep or if you’re in light sleep. I feel like it’s motivated me. It helps you create good habits,” says Villemaire.

But Mannino says there could be a downside to all this data. He says many users don’t read the fine print of privacy policies that allow companies to sell or share this information to third parties.

Mannino says, “People should definitely be concerned. I don’t think a lot of end users of these, consumers of these devices, necessarily go through the end-user agreement top to bottom. So, for one, they don’t understand generally what’s being collected. So, sometimes more information may be collected than what you’re eating every day, your location, a lot of really intimate things about you, things you don’t realize. There’s different ways of meshing the data up and pulling out trends.”

Fitbit, a big player in this business, recently updated its privacy policy. A spokesperson for the company tells ABC 7 News that Fitbit does not share personally identifiable data unless directed by the user, when legally necessary or as described in the privacy policy.

That policy states, “Fitbit may share or sell aggregated, de-identified data that does not identify you, with partners and the public in a variety of ways.”

Isiah Munoz, a personal trainer at Vida Fitness, says fitness bracelets allow clients to set and surpass their goals. He is not worried about privacy issues as he does not post his results to social media sites and is careful about the information he inputs.

“Yes, could they say locate me, the city I live in, can they say that I run, can they say that I’m active, yeah they could probably do that. Am I OK with that? Yeah. It’s very passive information,” he said.

Debi McKibben, owner of Simply Stronger, says, ”So, what’s the worst Fitbit can do? Fitbit can flood my email box with advertisements for elliptical machines or stationary bikes or they could flood my email with gym memberships. Well, my email box is already flooded. Does it really matter? The information that I’m storing on my Fitbit is not information that’s dangerous that’s out there.”

Another one of Mannino’s fears involves health care coverage. He says there are some private firms already using fitness bracelets as an incentive, so health-conscious employees can reduce their insurance premiums. But on the flip side, he wonders, if Congress doesn’t institute restrictions, insurance companies could increase premiums for people who refuse to wear a wearable fitness bracelet or show poor results on their fitness bracelet. If unchecked, he envisions are dark future where the unfit may be rejected from jobs or loans based on their fitness profiles.

Mannino, who is not at all opposed to the utility of wearable technologies, strongly suggests before signing up for a fitness bracelet or online health tracking application that users read all of the privacy policy. And know that you can typically tailor the product to share as little information, or as much information, as you would like. And you can set up the device so it doesn’t share data with social media sites or track your location. But Mannino stresses that ultimately the business of counting your calories is about feeding someone else’s bottom line.

The Federal Trade Commission released a sweeping report Jan. 27, 2015 that details a number of concerns the agency has in regards to protecting the privacy and security of people’s personal data used with internet connected devices.

Privacy Policies:

Fitbit
Jawbone
Nike Fuelband
My Fitness Pal

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