C. Warren Axelrod

Privacy Losses Led to Secrecy Fails

In yet another example of damaging unintended consequences, we learned that connecting your Fitbit or other fitness device, or indeed any Internet-connectable device (even a pacemaker!) will likely reveal your location. Much of the time that may not be so important, although disclosing your geographical location can have many implications, such as someone tracking you down when you don’t want them to. Geo-tracking by other parties can be inconvenient, annoying or possibly dangerous. In certain circumstances, it can give away secret information that could threaten national security.  Such an example is described by Liz Sly in a Washington Post January 29, 2018 article, “U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging.” In the article, Sly describes how the U.S. military, which has piloted the use of Fitbits “to battle obesity,” is “looking into the issue.” The resulting information could be used by an enemy to identify previously-unknown bases and personnel activities in and around military locations.

It is amazing how oblivious are those who should know better. Data is the new currency, with values arguably far above those that we are seeing for cryptocurrencies. We need to be cognizant of how data are being collected. It’s not so easy, I admit it. Another Washington Post article, dated January 26, 2018, this time by Drew Harwell, is on the same theme. The article, which has the title: “Privacy is Going Out of Fashion,” talks to the phenomenon of how our body measurements are collected for the purposes of fitting a suit and those measurements are uploaded into a database used for marketing purposes. An online version of the article is available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/companies-race-to-gather-a-newly-prized-currency-our-body-measurements/2018/01/16/5af28d98-f6e8-11e7-beb6-c8d48830c54d_story.html?utm_term=.36c207b30f38

That’s okay, if we are clear on the uses of our measurement data and are comfortable with those uses. But what if these measurements are forwarded to health insurance companies who then decide your eligibility for coverage based on your body measurements? That’s not what you intended … right? And, for military personnel, there is possibility that those measurements might encourage the acquisition of Fitbits … and so back we come back to square one.

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