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Fitness technology could reveal your personal data

The new Fitbit Charge 3 fitness trackers are displayed in New York.
The new Fitbit Charge 3 fitness trackers are displayed in New York.

More consumers are turning to fitness technology to help achieve their health goals. But how much data are these devices and apps gathering, and how might that information be used in ways you don’t expect?

People are becoming more aware of the sheer amount of data tech companies have on them, and there are growing concerns as to where and how that data is stored. Big-name companies including FitBit and MyFitnessPal have suffered data breaches in recent years, shining a spotlight on the need for consumers to take matters into their own hands whenever possible. While you may not be able to stop a company from failing to secure your data, you can mitigate your risks.

The best time to evaluate the security of fitness technology is before you buy. You can search online for details about the company’s security and privacy policies.

Data breaches are all but inevitable. The question is, how does the company handle them? Have there been known incidents of selling data to third parties without customer consent? Are there ways to download your data? What happens to your information if you decide to delete your account?

Once you’ve installed your new fitness technology, it’s time to evaluate the security settings. Remember that the defaults probably are not going to provide adequate protection. At minimum, you should make sure to use a strong password that is only used for that app or device. Weak and reused passwords are all but guaranteed to result in hijacking and data theft.

Some fitness technology makes frequent use of your location. For example, many runners enjoy mapping their routes so they can track their progress. You might also be offered the option of sharing this data with fellow users, as a means of community encouragement. It’s fine if you want to do this, as long as you’re going into it with your eyes open. 

Remember, any data you share may spread much farther than you initially intended. You’ll have to decide for yourself if using those features is worth the risk. One thing you can do is turn on location sharing only when working out, and keep it disabled otherwise.

You also may wish to disable sharing to social media. Some fitness technology allows you to link to your Facebook, Twitter or other accounts. But ask yourself, is it truly necessary to post online every time you complete a workout? Just because the feature is available doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it.

Another problem is the proliferation of fake apps. Just recently, Apple cracked down on several dodgy fitness apps that were using fingerprint technology, ostensibly to “personalize” the experience. Instead, users were fooled into spending inordinate amounts of money on programs that didn’t deliver what was promised.

If you see something that looks fishy, think twice before clicking or swiping to accept.

Remember that reviews can be faked, so invest in some due diligence beforehand.

Only use products from reliable companies that you have researched thoroughly and that have a good track record of taking consumer data security seriously. While this will not eliminate your risk, it can reduce it.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com offers help and advice for Windows and Mac users.

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