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Can Fitness Trackers Threaten Your Privacy?

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As more Americans become conscious about their health and strive to achieve fitness goals, they may choose to buy wearable activity monitors that collect information about their heart rate, steps taken and more. While many consumers consider these devices to be handy for tracking their achievements, others are concerned about lack of privacy protection.

Since activity monitors gather data related to consumer personal information, such as age, weight, diet and even location, third parties may be seeking out this same data, according to Consumer Reports. From insurance providers to data brokers, these companies are likely to use this data for marketing and business purposes.

The value of the global wearable devices market, which includes heart rate and activity monitors, is projected to increase to $5.8 billion by 2019, according to market research firm ResearchMoz. Activity monitors will be especially in demand from consumers as more people will use these devices to monitor their progress toward fitness and weight-loss targets.

As new wearable technology, such as activity trackers, is only just emerging, privacy laws are struggling to keep up.

Calls for Stronger Privacy Regulations Intensify

As the market for activity monitors grows, more consumers are calling for stricter regulations of this new technology.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently drew attention to privacy protection issues connected to wearables, urging the Federal Trade Commission to establish rules for how activity trackers manage data. Schumer said fitness applications were a “privacy nightmare,” saying some applications sell sensitive health information to third parties without user permission.

With no federal privacy rules regarding activity trackers, Schumer said, there is no stopping developers from sharing sensitive information with companies that aim to use this data for profit.

“Personal fitness bracelets and the data they collect on your health, sleep, and location, should be just that — personal,” Schumer said in a statement.

The closest regulators have come to reining in mobile apps that collect medical information is the introduction of data privacy guidelines set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, these rules may not apply to fitness apps as the FDA said mobile apps that serve as a personal health record system do not have to adhere to the mobile medical app policy. With the market only increasing for activity monitors, federal regulators may soon have to focus on creating privacy rules designed specifically for these devices.

Some companies that produce activity monitors have addressed consumer concerns, with FitBit becoming the biggest high-profile firm to say it does not sell user data. Quelling consumer worries about privacy and data management will also be important for companies to ensure customers are running toward activity monitors — not away from them.

Just one small piece of personal information can be the clue to an identity thief’s puzzle. That’s why it’s important to monitor your financial accounts and credit regularly, to make sure that if an identity thief strikes, you can quickly repair the damage. You can get free copies of your credit reports once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies, which you should use to look for accounts you don’t recognize. Also, you can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com, where you can spot a possible identity theft if your credit score has a major, unexpected change.

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