I bought myself a Fitbit recently. I was a bit late to the fitness tracking party but I finally succumbed because I wanted to set myself some personal goals for tracking my physical activity (I nearly said “daily movements” there but that would probably necessitate a totally different device!) Basically all I wanted it for was to determine whether my MS (which is of the Primary Progressive variety) is progressively diminishing my ability to remain active.
On the up side – setting myself achievable and measurable daily goals in this way has been great and I’m very proud (and relieved) to report that on most days I’m smashing my targets and having to continually increase them.
On the down side – today I learned that insurance companies are making their policies “interactive” by using wearable devices and smartphones to track the fitness and health data of their customers. For example, the company who I have my Income Protection Insurance with is offering rewards to customers who upload health, lifestyle and exercise data. Their status is classified as bronze, silver, gold or platinum members – the tiers are based on activity levels and members get premium discounts based on that status.
On the up side, this doesn’t apply to me as my existing policy has been in place for quite some time and isn’t based on any of such tier system, but it got me thinking as to the pitfalls of a system that operates in this way.
I mainly use my Fitbit to record my steps. I got fed up with trying to record them on my Samsung Health Tracker which not only seemed to be wildly inaccurate but necessitated me stuffing it down my bra if I wasn’t wearing anything with pockets, which is a bad idea for a variety of reasons. What would be to stop me from putting my Fitbit around Weasley’s neck if I didn’t feel like doing the required amount of steps and still wanted to claim a 25% discount on my premium? OK, so Weasley is possibly a bad example. My Fitbit would either be lost forever or a measly 112 steps would be recorded as Weasley lazily made his way from his bowl to his bed, thereby making it far more lucrative to get myself a Jack Russell rather than rely on Weasley for any potential savings.
Another scenario: What if my heart rate went soaring through the roof and my insurers thought I was exercising my arse off when in reality I might be having a medical event or an anxiety attack?
I find the future of this electronic “function creep” more than a little bit disconcerting. Although I’m pleased that the electronic device on my wrist tells me I am “progressing”, there are a lot of aspects of my condition that it doesn’t record (well, most aspects really). Rewards for the fittest could potentially translate into disadvantages for those with genuine physical or mental health issues. What if my insurance company were to deem me “too active” to be claiming Income Protection Insurance? Even worse, what if these fallible methods of surveillance that are being used to reward the virtuous fit were introduced as discriminating factors, not only in the insurance industry, but in our social welfare system?