The Fitbit Sex Scare Isn’t Very Scary
On December 5th, NFL correspondent Jane Slater posted a story on Twitter, explaining how she once caught an ex-boyfriend engaging in an age old, but not particularly faithful, activity. According to Slater, her former paramour had given her a Fitbit for Christmas, and the pair synced her new one with his. Apparently, they used it to motivate each other’s exercise habits. Slater commented that she loved it, until he was “unaccounted for at 4am and his physical activity levels were spiking on the app.”
Unsurprisingly, social media users have had a lot to say regarding Slater’s story. Although most of the comments and memes are enjoying the humor of her tale, not everyone finds the story hilarious, and once again the debate regarding tech companies and an individual’s privacy is at the center of debate.
This may sound strange coming from a private investigation firm who often warns about the danger of electronic surveillance, but don’t throw your Fitbit into the trash just yet. Take a breath and calm down, protecting the information your Fitbit collects is simple, and keeping your exercise and physical data private isn’t all that difficult.
First, a little context. The Fitbit sex data scandal is old news, dating back to July 2011. Prior to that date, Fitbit allowed users to publicly share their recorded information, including their sexual activities. Although this setting was supposed to default to “private,” apparently some users were confused, and over the fourth of July weekend that year, one journalist noticed.
To Fitbit’s credit, the company reacted swiftly. They altered their public sharing policies, and ceased offering specific categories to record sexual tracking, which previously ranged from "light effort" to "vigorous"). They’ve become a bit more flexible in the years since, and users can find clever ways around the company’s sex ban, but it’s not as easy as it once was, or anywhere near as specific.
Second, a key point of Slater’s story is that she was synced through the app to her boyfriend’s Fitbit. This was a conscious decision to share data on their part – meaning that neither the company, nor the device itself, invaded her ex-boyfriend’s privacy. Both chose to share the information.
This is a story that we’ve been hearing, in one form or another, for years now. Most devices only record information that you, the user, consciously allow it to access. Is that true of every electronic device? Of course not. Apps developed by nefarious creators can take control of your smartphones recording ability without your knowledge, and even security conscious companies get hacked or experience data leaks.
Generally speaking, however, the responsibility lies with the user, particularly when setting up a device, and the moral of this story is a simple one: if you want your private life to stay private, don’t give your electronic devices carte blanche. They’ve got settings, use them.