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TRACKABLE TECHNOLOGY - SOCIAL SAVIOUR OR SECRET MENACE?

BY STUART HUKE, MARKETING DIRECTOR.

I’ve never been a huge fitness fanatic, but after one binge too many (and after seeing a few reflections that reminded me of blancmange), I needed something to motivate me. Wearable technology had passed me by, as knowing my heart beat or step count never appealed to me. I mean, just knowing how many virtual flights of stairs I’ve walked up isn’t going to make me do anymore exercise. Just a fad. 

But then I came across Vitality, who have stumbled across a genius concept that makes wearable technology useful and more importantly, desirable.

They send you a fitness tracker, and the less you use it, the more you pay. Sure, everyone wants to lose some weight, but sometimes life takes over. You need that nudge, that reason to go outside and brave the elements, put one foot in front of the other, rather than watch Love Island. And what better reason than getting a cheap bit of new tech - but on the trade-off that it will cost you if you don’t exercise.

Finally I had the reason. My shiny new Apple Watch would take two years to pay back, unless I did enough exercise -  and then I wouldn’t pay a thing.

Aha, a challenge! Who doesn’t like a challenge?

Rather cleverly Vitality realised that to make more money, they needed people to be healthy, but knew that people these days want something in return.

Health Insurance on its own is not going to make you want to exercise (if anything it lets you binge in peace). No, they needed to get people active and motivated to exercise by committing to a piece of expensive, killer tech that they would have to pay for each month if they don’t exercise. Brilliant!

Will it work for everyone? Probably not. But then what do Vitality have to lose? If people do enough exercise, Vitality have healthier customers that cost them less in insurance pay outs.

If they don’t then they pay additional money into their business (on the basis I assume they got a good deal from Apple). But it’s the motivational reason that make it work for me. I don’t want to lose in this deal, I want to prove I can do this and get the watch for very little money. The financial incentive keeps me exercising. I now run most weekdays, even some weekends. I feel lost if I don’t exercise and love the fact I can track my runs, track my progress, have daily updates on how well I am doing. It’s the perfect blend of technology providing you with data that makes you want to exercise, but also change your perception of keeping healthy which will improve your life in the long run. Now that has to be a good thing.

But is all trackable technology driven by corporate desire for data a positive thing? Well maybe not. You only have to look at Snapchat’s latest, quietly pushed-out update to see that.

Snapchat’s new, opt-in feature allows you to see your contacts on a map – along with who they’re with and emoji’s for what they’re doing - driving a car, listening to music or loitering somewhere they said they weren’t going to be.

Is that a healthy social technological development?

Now I’m sure Snapchat didn’t design this feature for stalkers, but humans by nature are nosy. It’s arguably the reason why social media is so popular.

Letting people see your exact movements and even what you’re doing? I‘m not sure that’s well thought-through and possibly exacerbates existing anxiety, FOMO and trust issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology inspiring a new way of life, but it has to be balanced with positive benefit - not something that will have a detrimental on people’s real and digital lives.

It’s ideas like Snapchat’s which are worrying politicians today, and why they’ve pursued an aggressive approach to data collection through the new European GDPR regulations.

The new Digital Economy Bill that is being discussed in the House of Lords is also asking the same core questions about what is acceptable in this new data-sharing age.

Technology businesses have a duty to review their product and ask themselves some fundamental questions: is what we are offering going to be for the betterment of human existence?

I think in some cases it will be, but unchecked it has the danger to encroach into people’s lives and distribute information that would be better kept private.