Big Brother’s in Your Pocket!

OK, I chose the post title just to be alarmist. I don’t really think that wearable and integrated trackers (for example, to count your daily steps) rise to the level of Big Brother. At least, not yet.

I recently posted an entry on Wired Innovation Insights about wearable vs. integrated trackers:

There’s been buzz lately with more device-based trackers like Move and Runkeeper’s Breeze that the wearable might be

My visual representation of how goals and decision-making styles influence tracker choice
My visual representation of how goals and decision-making styles influence tracker choice

on its way out. I argue that the wearable will stick around, at least for a little while. In Wired, I focus on decision-making style as one of the key reasons for this. I believe that people who satisfice, or make “good enough” decisions, are more likely to just use a tracking app on their smartphone than someone who maximizes, or makes the very best possible decision. Device-based trackers are still fairly rudimentary, so someone going for the absolute best tracker probably won’t find it there. But if you’re not a gung-ho athlete and you just want a good enough sense of your activity, the idea of spending under $10 and NOT adding more hardware to your waistline would be pretty appealing.

The other piece I did not talk about in Wired, but which I do believe will influence whether or not people choose an integrated vs. a wearable tracker, has to do with level of paranoia and value placed on privacy. A tracker integrated with your smartphone or other device has the potential to provide an app with a lot more information than just steps taken or flights of stairs climbed.

The Facebook acquisition of Moves provides a perfect example of the panic that can ensue if people believe, rightly or wrongly, that their location data is being shared without their control. Initially Moves claimed that their data would be kept separate from Facebook’s. Then, an update to the privacy statement implied that the data would be commingled, which would give Facebook unprecedented insight into users’ daily activities (imagine the implications for targeted messaging!). Finally, Facebook clarified that the data from Moves would be used for tech support only (see It’s almost certain that the way data is used between Facebook and Moves will continue to evolve, but the Internet outrage when it was thought the data would be totally shared speaks to people’s understandable reluctance to let corporations see so much of their activity.

So in addition to integrated tracking being the top choice mostly for people who satisfice and/or people who don’t have specific goals that require accurate and detailed tracking, I also believe it’s a far more likely choice for people who are comfortable not knowing exactly what happens with their data. It will be interesting to see what kind of guardrails develop around the use of location- and activity-based data by corporations, and how much control users retain over this. While I’m waiting, I personally will stick with my wearable tracker.

2 thoughts on “Big Brother’s in Your Pocket!”

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