Google plans to acquire Fitbit for $ 2.1 billion, Google's senior vice president for devices and services, Rick Osterloh, announced Friday. The goal is to "help more people with portable parts," which sounds modest until you remember Google's ambition that their devices quietly predict and control your life. Google has already ventured into a world of health sensors with Wear OS running on partner devices, and right down we can expect to see Google's smart watches, which may explain why Google can hire a hardware manufacturer like Fitbit. * This expertise can be valuable, but so is Fitbit's data. As Reuters noted a few days ago and reported on the brink of the deal, information gathered by Fitbit & # 39; s fitness trackers and other devices is where "much of the company's value can now lie."
It is difficult to investigate how much data Fitbit can collect on its 28 million active users. The most basic device, Fitbit for Kids, keeps track of steps and sleep. Several advanced devices, including Fitbit's smart watches, heart rate, heart rate, and the ability to log menstrual cycles (from which Fitbit can estimate when you ovulate). Fitby's smart scales can track weight, body mass index and even what percentage of your weight is body fat. Fitbit's apps (which include a free version, no hardware required) encourage users to track food, blood sugar, jogging routes, menstrual cycles and water intake, and encourage users to set goals. Fitbit Care, an "engagement platform" and coaching service that businesses can offer employees, links all of this data to your workplace. And now Google could have it too – your steps, BMI and your ambitions.
Even if you do not own a Fitbit – or are currently crushing you with a hammer – you will soon live in a world where Google can make smarter predictions of what your health can be . Last year, Fitbit technical critic David Pogue gave a glimpse of trends sourced from 150 billion hours of heart data, "the largest set of heart rate data ever collected," Pogue wrote. (Suitable for a company that collects personal information, Fitbit requested that Pogue and his wife submit journals about the most important life events of recent years.) Based on data trends, if any, Fitbit could guess your dormant heart rate based on where a lot of sleep or movement you engage in, or even what country you live in.
The most obvious use of all this data is to sell things: nutrition bars when you are on weight loss, running shorts when exercising, yoga blocks when feeling stressed. "Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads," Osterloh said in the statement. It omits other personal information, such as location and birthdays, points out the Associated Press. There is also more that Google can do with data than selling ads – namely research.
While it is difficult to care that your personal information is shared in in a different way you can consider what it would mean for Google to have some of the biggest health data. Information about menstrual cycles, for example, is very valuable to researchers interested in getting a better grip on complicated disorders, such as endometriosis. Google's parent company, Alphabet, now has the potential to control an even greater share of health science than it already does. Alphabet owns Verily, which creates "tools that translate health data into action." Right now, the company is working on developing smart lenses, surgical robots and eating utensils for people with limited mobility, among many other things. Even when collaborating with other companies and researchers (one project is in line with, for example, drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline), Google will keep a lot of sway over how the data is distributed, what kind of questions are asked, and to what end.
Surely a lot of useful insight and products can come from the alphabet's health efforts. But to get them, we must trust a company whose main goal is not public health. What if some of the laptops overincentivate the crazy goals, like BMI? What if we are stuck with step count, a wrong metric, forever? What if portability itself is good but their main use is to provide health insurance companies and employers a way to keep constant, engaging tabs on everyone? That having the latest fancy fitness tracker matters to one's well-being is the central path for Fitbit, as a unit. Soon we will learn to what end the world's most powerful technology companies are planning to take it.
Correction November 1, 2019: This post originally misidentified the Wear OS as the Wearable OS.