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The rise of the wearable health device: what does it mean for marketers?

There’s a pretty good chance that you own a wearable health device or fitness tracker. It may even be on your wrist right now.

Despite some recent re-framing of previously astronomical market growth predictions, 2016 still saw a 25% year-on-year increase in wearable health devices. That’s 102m units sold last year alone (according to the IDC). It’s a market that grows larger and increasingly more mainstream as product innovation and the potential health benefit of fitness tracking captures consumer attention.

However, it’s this speed of adoption – from innovator to mainstream in a short space of time – that can overtake existing legislation and data privacy rules: rules that were never written with fitness trackers in mind. And as a Data Planner, one of the first things I thought of when I acquired my own FitBit was: “what happens to all these stats being captured”?

To share or not to share – that is the (often unspoken) question.

The whole point of wearable heath devices is to capture data. Personal health and fitness data. e.g. How much you sleep (or don’t sleep), how many steps you take, your heartbeat and even (potentially) your sexual activity! But do consumers really want to share this? In many cases, unless they explicitly activate a privacy option on their device, their data is publicly and globally accessible.

This data is probably going to be unidentifiable at a personal level, but if a consumer is logging in or sharing their badges / achievements via Facebook or Google+, it potentially won’t be.  

Health data has always been the great taboo of the data industry, with such strict legislation and security requirements that many companies shy away from capturing or storing it unless they absolutely have to. The rise of wearable health tech has completely turned this guarded situation on its head, offering free-flowing personal health data for all manner of analytical possibilities – often without any express permission, or even consumer awareness that it’s happening.

The biggest fear, understandably, is that personal health data could be used by an insurance provider, medical scheme or employer to make negative decisions about individuals. And although this fear is being taken very seriously by consumer bodies and governments, they’re still playing catch-up in legislative terms. So in the meantime, consumers need to check their privacy options and decide what they want (and don’t want) to share with the world.

Alibi or Incriminating Evidence?

The GPS location and fitness data on wearable health devices is already featuring as evidence in courts of law. For example, it has resulted in a successful prosecution for murder, as well as proof of immobility in a Canadian insurance claim case.
So, will a FitBit self-incriminate you or provide you with the alibi you need? Hopefully neither!

A touchdown for personal control

An interesting twist on the privacy argument came with the announcement in April this year that WHOOP sports trackers had struck a landmark deal with NFL Players, allowing them to licence out their own fitness data – e.g. to TV broadcasters looking to add extra, uniquely personal player health stats to their sports coverage.
The important point here is that it’s the players themselves who have control of their data, both in privacy and commercial terms.


Rules of engagement

Based on what we’ve seen so far, the future of wearable health tech is likely to shift in unpredictable ways. However, it’s probable that health-related data will continue to be a thorny subject for marketing companies. Legislative loopholes are already closing to protect privacy concerns, and most consumers are likely to feel uncomfortable about sharing their fitness (or lack of it) data publicly.

But that doesn’t mean that capturing other types of personal data is a no-go area. Here are some key rules to follow:

- Look at data collection from the consumer perspective – e.g. is it reasonable for someone to ask me this? Then check whether you’d answer it yourself
- What’s in it for the consumer? Remember, consumers are responsive to tangible benefits in convenience, customer service and exclusive content - not just hard financial rewards.
- Are you being explicit and clear on how the data will be used? Be totally transparent. Always.  
- Always seek permission for future contact, and do it in a brand-appropriate tone of voice (i.e. don’t write opt-in statements like a lawyer).
- Not everyone wants to keep their data private. If people want to share their challenges, badges and achievements etc on social media, provide them with the means and tools to do so.

To hear more about opportunities for humanising technology, click on the link below. 

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About Author

Tim Green
Tim Green

Data Planning Director & part-time Rock Star

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