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Privacy Technology

How Nest and FitBit Might Spy On You For Cash 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-let-them-take-your-analog-shoelaces dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Forbes offers up a comforting little story about how Nest and FitBit are planning on turning user data in a multi-billion-dollar business. 'Smart-thermostat maker Nest Labs (which is being acquired by Google for $3.2 billion) has quietly built a side business managing the energy consumption of a slice of its customers on behalf of electric companies,' reads the article. 'In wearables, health tracker Fitbit is selling companies the tracking bracelets and analytics services to better manage their health care budgets, and its rival Jawbone may be preparing to do the same.' As many a wit has said over the years: If you're not paying, you're the product. But if Forbes is right, wearable-electronics companies may have discovered a sweeter deal: paying customers on one side, and companies paying for those customers' data on the other. Will most consumers actually care, though?"
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How Nest and FitBit Might Spy On You For Cash

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  • by captaindomon (870655) on Friday April 18, 2014 @05:32PM (#46791293)
    Will they care? It all depends on the data being shared is in aggregate. I don't care if people know that the average person in my city walks a thousand steps a day, and that still has a lot of value for health care companies, and I'm happy to contribute to that. I *DO* care if they know the details about me *individually*. There is a big difference.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Assume that advertisers can buy the details about you as an individual. Be it where you ran to, how much you ran, etc.

      The EULA of those devices likely states that, and there has yet to be a EULA/TOS overturned, so consider that data public... or don't use the device.

      I don't use Fitbits, nor Nest stuff. However, I don't have a blog, nor post my soul on social networks. I guess I'm a fossil.

      • by sjames (1099)

        I don't trust any device that insists on reporting to 'the cloud' rather than to a machine of my choosing. Even if it says it only reports to the machine of my choosing, I don't really trust that it doesn't also report to 'the cloud'.

        The cloud has no legitimate need to know. That's why my 'smart tv' is a laptop loaded with Linux connected to a not so smart TV.

      • by Cyberax (705495)
        FitBit TOS states that they might use unanimous data aggregates but my individual data is private, unless I explicitly authorize sharing. I have no problem with that at all.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't care if people know that the average person in my city walks a thousand steps a day, and that still has a lot of value for health care companies, and I'm happy to contribute to that.

      I am not so sure that I agree.

      In order to have value for health care companies, it must affect a decision(s) by the health care companies. That decision has 3 possible relationships to me: it benefits me, it does not benefit me, or it has no effect. If it benefits me or has no effect, then, OK. But if it works against my interests, why would I voluntarily contribute my information to that end result?

      It gets worse, though, since I will have no ability to know what the result will be.
      The only safe option

    • by guanxi (216397)

      Will they care? It all depends on the data being shared is in aggregate. I don't care if people know that the average person in my city walks a thousand steps a day, and that still has a lot of value for health care companies, and I'm happy to contribute to that. I *DO* care if they know the details about me *individually*. There is a big difference.

      That data is worth a lot more than you think, and they can learn a lot more about you as an individual. Also, knowing the value of that data, why give it away?

      • Yes, because it can help others, you selfish bastard.

        People always complain companies are greedy, but they should take a look at individuals who want a piece of the action for EVERYTHING.

        What is wrong with you? Seriously? Why is everyone so greedy that a company cannot accidentally or otherwise make one cent off data you willingly contribute for the greater good?

        Could you have sold that data anyway? No? Then what the hell man?

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Because the fuckers will not allow me to access my raw data. I don't care if my data is curing cancer, HONEST companies would let me at the data stream for my own uses.

    • by skids (119237)

      I don't care if people know that the average person in my city walks a thousand steps a day,

      I do. Just because data is aggregate does not make it harmless, especially when insurance company risk pools get involved. The people using this data are under no oath or legal obligation to use it in a humane, reasonable, or positive fashion. This data is slowly building the boundaries of the digital ghettos of the future.

  • FitBit and Nest (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Two companies whose products I will never, ever buy.

  • will most customers care? no. they're, like, customers, man.
  • Will it matter? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 18, 2014 @05:35PM (#46791331) Journal
    You start with the ones who don't care, give them discounts on their insurance premiums or electric bill or whatever. Over the course of a few years, you futz with the prices until it's less of a 'discount' and more 'the only way to approach the price you used to get'.

    At that point, the ones who do care can either suck it up and wear whatever herd-management-solution you feel like telling them to, or they can pay (probably increasingly steeply) to maintain their precious little objections.
  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Friday April 18, 2014 @05:44PM (#46791377)
    Snapshot from Progressive Insurance. Start by giving them a break in return for some seemingly innocuous monitoring; sooner or later, they'll either start requiring it or they'll start expanding the data they're allowed to collect and sell. What, you thought they were doing all this wonderful stuff just to save you money?

    Remember folks - first hit of the crack pipe's free . . .

    • by reebmmm (939463)

      Insurance is a weird thing: it works because you pool a bunch of risk and spread the associated costs across all your insured. At the moment, Snapshot only gives discounts to those drivers that establish that they are in fact in the lowest risk pool: few miles driven, during "safe" times, in a "safe" manner (e.g., few hard stops). There's no incentive, currently, for otherwise safe drivers to participate -- such as those that drive too many miles.

      However, I consider myself a safe driver but just have too

      • increased rates of those that had poor overall driving techniques (fast acceleration, hard braking, etc.)

        Yes, you should definitely make people pay more who are poor drivers.

        But the things you list may not be indicative. They could mean someone avoided an accident instead of causing one...

        The next time someone behind you is about to hit you, reflect on if they should apply brakes gently or with force.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by simtel (798974)
          If someone has to habitually hard-stop, then there is a very good chance that they're habitually driving too fast for conditions and/or not leaving enough space to stop in. This data is being used to establish the driving habits of the user - and as such the one or two 'avoid accident' stops will become outliers. It's the habits that push people into the higher risk pools, not the outliers.
          • by Lumpy (12016)

            It needs a gps so it can rat on them if they are speeders. People who speed in residential areas need to have Progressive send someone out to punch them in the taint over and over until they understand that only scumbags speed in residential areas.

            It's just one of the perks of Progressive.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Your premiums will never ever go down, no matter how the pool's risk is changed.

      • No matter how cute the 'Flo' ads are, here is what drove me to never consider them: http://mattfisher.tumblr.com/p... [tumblr.com] I do understand what you said about insurance but I think the reality of what happens behind the curtains is more revealing... and disturbing.
    • I was going to post about this but you beat me to it! Each and every time I see those stupid Progressive commercials or similar I always think the same thing. Sure it seems innocent now, a reduction of 10-20% in your insurance rates now (woo hoo). But then next thing you know you are speeding (5-10 mph over) through a GREEN light with the flow of traffic and get T-boned. Now the person who T-boned you will likely get charged, and you will get off without a charge because you didn't cause the accident. The c

      • by vux984 (928602)

        It's human nature to occasionally (or always) speed and break minor traffic laws.

        Indeed. I just had an argument with a local neighborhood group. They've gone and posted the speed limit at 10kph, but they don't want people to actually drive 10kph and even came out and admitted that... but they got the idea that you set it 10-15kph below what you want people to do, so they set it at 10kph to get people to drive 15 to 25 instead of.

        The problem though is that set at 10kph, with the expectation that we drive 15

  • by retech (1228598) on Friday April 18, 2014 @05:54PM (#46791437)
    Is there ever a reason to actually register one of these products with your real name and info? Unless it's my bank, DL, or passport, I see no point in giving any of these companies real info.
    • by Narcocide (102829)

      I'm sure its at least a violation of the EULA to do so, and possibly enforceable too, at least in the US.

      • by hendrips (2722525)

        You know, instead of being "sure," you could actually spend 30 seconds checking Google before spreading your prejudices as fact. I can't speak for other products, but that wasn't true for my Fitbit. There's no need to give them a real name - when you register your device, they just ask for a name to call you by (which can be anything), and a valid email. They might be able to figure out my real name when I set it up to sync with my phone (which wasn't required either), but I guess I'm just not paranoid en

    • Is there ever a reason to actually register one of these products with your real name and info? Unless it's my bank, DL, or passport, I see no point in giving any of these companies real info.

      Nope. Rusty Shackleford every time.

      • by kpainter (901021)

        Is there ever a reason to actually register one of these products with your real name and info? Unless it's my bank, DL, or passport, I see no point in giving any of these companies real info.

        Nope. Rusty Shackleford every time.

        I use Giles Wigglesworth

  • Got a FitBit for christmas.

    Now its in the trash.
    Pen & paper don't spy on me anymore when I record my workouts & food.
    The pencils though... Haven't figured out how to stop them yet...

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      It's hard for the pencils to spy on you when you smash their tiny graphite hearts.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      That was really stupid. only a moron would throw it away, you could have easily got $50 on craigslist for it.

      • I would have paid to watch him smash it!
  • by guanxi (216397) on Friday April 18, 2014 @06:05PM (#46791533)

    Isn't it obvious at this point that everyone who can spy on you, will? There is no legal regulation, or simple pragmatic or moral restraint.

    Remember Obama saying about the NSA, 'maybe just because we can gather some data doesn't mean we should' (paraphrased). It doesn't seem like others are even thinking about it, except Mozilla.

    • by jopsen (885607)

      Isn't it obvious at this point that everyone who can spy on you, will? There is no legal regulation, or simple pragmatic or moral restraint.

      Remember Obama saying about the NSA, 'maybe just because we can gather some data doesn't mean we should' (paraphrased). It doesn't seem like others are even thinking about it, except Mozilla.

      And the EU... but yeah, Mozilla, EFF, FSF are the primary private entities working for privacy.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        ... The guy with a gmail address think mozilla doesn't sell him down the river? Seriously?

        Who pays Mozilla to use them as the default search engine ... Which I turn harvests every bit of data possible.

        • by jopsen (885607)

          ... The guy with a gmail address think mozilla doesn't sell him down the river? Seriously?

          Correction, the guy with a private gmail address who also happens to be a Mozillian... No, he really, doesn't see that happening :)
          Regarding the gmail address, I do wish I could easily migrate, but gmail is just too convenient at this point.
          (Maybe I'll migrate someday).

          Who pays Mozilla to use them as the default search engine ... Which I turn harvests every bit of data possible.

          Well, there is a reason why in Firefox you search using the search-bar and not using the address bar. At least not everything doesn't get streamed to google.
          Either way, the labs projects I've heard about seems to focus more on empowering u

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday April 18, 2014 @06:11PM (#46791557) Homepage

    The trouble with these things is that they want to "phone home" too much. For energy conservation, Nest talks to a Nest, Inc. server and tells it too much. The info it needs (outside temp, power grid load status) is freely available from read-only web sites. (Given a ZIP code, the National Weather Service site will return info in XML.) But no, it has to talk to the "cloud" and give out personal information. That's totally unnecessary.

  • Might? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Friday April 18, 2014 @07:14PM (#46791995) Homepage Journal

    I'm already seeing ads for managers offering to sell me this information.

    I'm not sure you realize that it's already being marketed, not "will be" marketed.

  • by forand (530402) on Friday April 18, 2014 @09:48PM (#46792683) Homepage
    The article is very misleading. Nest is working with some power companies which offer their customers financial incentives to allow the power company to dial back their AC units during high load times. Pepco in DC offers the same service but you have to pay for their thermostat. This isn't selling user information this is letting the power companies access their customers' thermostats if and only if that customer allows it. Nothing in the article says anything else is happening than this but states it in a very deceptive way. If the article actually had some evidence of something more nefarious it would be fine but as it is just doesn't stand up.

    This is a link to the Nest program: https://nest.com/energy-partne... [nest.com]
  • What worries me is that the movement sensor in Nest knows when you are at home. It reports this information to the cloud after which Google sells this Big Data to 3rd parties. Now how long will it take that criminal 3rd parties take such a Big Data feed from Google to plan burglaries? Did anybody think of that? Or should we just trust the ethical sense of your Big Data owner of choice?

  • I'm not sure that those arguing the public doesn't care really have it right. There is an apathy, no doubt, but it may just as well stem from a sense of powerlessness, as from one of detachment. "You can't fight the Man", is an ingrained ethos of our times. If it does no good to demonstrate you care, you just move on; it's not really acceptance, it's jaded fatalism.
  • Everyone with a Nest is probably already aware of their Energy Partners https://nest.com/ca/energy-par... [nest.com] program.

    Instead of having your utility company cut your power in the summer when its hot out like they do some places, Nest users' thermostats pre-cool their homes in the morning to reduce energy use during peak hours as determined by the power company. This is a win-win you sign up for, not a spying act.

    If you don't want Nest to know about your energy usage, just disable its wifi connection. It still

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