How do you pay for your free fitness app?

Privacy news
3 mins

We all want everyone to stare at our chiseled physique in jaw-dropping awe. Which is probably why Cristiano Ronaldo spends a lot of time in just his underpants. But attaining the perfect body is not easy.

Not only will you have to give up your favorite snacks (unless your favorite snack is raisins, in which case you’re a liar), you’ll also have to hit the gym hard and crank up the cardio. Going out for dinner won’t be easy, either, because you’ll have to constantly watch what you eat. And there’s no point in crash dieting your way there. Diets don’t work because they only last for a predetermined amount of time, at which point normal consumption resumes. You have to change everything. For life.

Oh, and you may also need to give up any notion of privacy you have.

A Hulk Hogan cat. Because this is the Internet.

Wait… Fitness Apps Take My Privacy?

If you’re going to be using apps and gadgets in your quest for the perfect body, as many of us do, your data will be harvested quicker than you can say “bikini ready”.

OpenEffect recently released a report titled A Comparative Analysis of Fitness Tracker Privacy and Security. It’s a real page turner.

The upshot of OpenEffect’s research is that your fitness app is a combine harvester, and you are a lovely golden field of wheat just waiting to be picked and plucked clean.

We’re paraphrasing, admittedly, but the point is that they’re going to hoover up all of your delicious data. The study even points to some apps collecting your movement information when the location setting of your phone is switched off.

Every Free Fitness App Harvests Your Data. Yes. All of Them.

There’s a saying in Silicon Valley: If you’re not paying, you’re the product.

The top seven most used fitness apps have well over 100 million combined downloads, but what do they want in return for drawing a pretty graph of your jogging route and counting all the calories you stuff in your face? They’re not just giving away a product for nothing; these apps cost money and require a lot of resources to maintain.

If it’s free or something too good to be true, the makers are receiving revenue via other means. Health and fitness apps are particularly prone to data mining because they collect information that is of high interest to insurance companies.

How would you like to be refused health care because an insurance company knows for a fact that you don’t exercise enough? This could easily happen, as a Financial Times report noted that big insurance firms like Humana and Aetna are signing partnerships with health app developers.

So while you are not spending cash for a product, you are paying for it with your most precious commodity — your privacy.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All! Everyone link fitness apps! Hey! You at the back… Mew too.

Data Sharing Isn’t Always Bad

Data sharing can actually be a good thing for the consumer, as it allows different apps to work together. You can track your exercise in RunKeeper, use Fitbit to monitor your daily steps, and even count your calorie consumption with MyFitnessPal. An app like Google Fitness can then store all this information in one convenient place.

In order to work together, apps have to share your data. But there’s a big difference between sharing data from one app to one another and sharing it so a 3rd party can exploit you.

The OpenEffect study should encourage us to pay more attention and ask questions about the many different ways our personal information is being shared.

You Can Use All the Apps and Still Stay Safe

Getting healthy is never a bad thing, and fitness apps can definitely help you achieve your goals. Just be wary of the price you pay for it.

Consider logging into fitness apps with a fake profile that doesn’t contain sensitive personal information, and remember that a mobile VPN can add extra security by hiding your IP address and true location. Exercise some caution before you exercise your body, that way you can enjoy your workout and keep your data safe.

Which apps do you use to stay healthy? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image: Julia Tim / Adobe Stock
Meeeeooooww!: Rasulov / Adobe Stock
Dreadful Pokemon pun (sorry): venimo / Adobe Stock

Johnny 5 is the founding editor of the blog and writes about pressing technology issues. From important cat privacy stories to governments and corporations that overstep their boundaries, Johnny covers it all.