Is your step counter spying on you?

Federal government officials are getting concerned that the explosion in the health monitoring devices may lead to people’s step counters spying on them — then snitching to their health insurance company or even to advertisers more broadly.

The popularity of wireless health monitoring devices has soared over the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down. While this particular brand of wearable tech sold a respectable 33 million units in 2015, analysts have projected that this number will rise to 148 million by 2019. Wirelessly connected pedometers can be a fun way to track fitness levels, but government officials raise concerns that health insurers could use the information they collect to discriminate against more sedentary consumers.

Wirelessly connected pedometers can be a fun way to track fitness levels, but officials raise questions over whether health insurers could use then use the information they collect to discriminate against more sedentary consumers.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attorney Cora Han pointed out the security risks involved. She says that while data collected by these devices could be used against citizens, there is no evidence that it has. Han has also stated that the FTC does not intend on restricting how data is used, but instead wants to make sure that the public stays informed. The Commission’s ultimate goal is enough transparency for consumers to make informed decisions.

While security is always a concern within the Internet of Things (IoT), wireless fitness devices represent an issue more legally complicated than a burglar knowing what’s on your daily planner. Despite collecting sensitive medical data, wearables are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Your step counter may not be very secure

This means that – unlike doctors and health insurers – health monitoring device companies aren’t required to inform consumers when their privacy may have been compromised. Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, seeks to extend this legislation. In the meantime, consumers are vulnerable to data breaches caused by insufficiently secured wireless devices.

“This is data that consumers often regard as private and sensitive,” said Han. “I think what consumers are concerned about is having it be used in ways they might not reasonably expect.”

Many of these fears mirror the FDA’s concerns about the popularity of genetic testing. While the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act eventually prevented insurers from denying coverage based on these results, officials are still dealing with deceptive companies and misinformed consumers. Whether wearable technology will also be covered under similar legislation in the future remains uncertain.

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