My Take

Corporations are tracking every heartbeat of my life

Technology is all well and good but when it follows you every step of the way, then it’s time to worry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 11:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2016, 11:13pm

People talk about big data and some even fret about its dangers. It’s all very well but seems extremely abstract and remote. Explain to me like I am an eight-year-old, please.

These days, I am more worried about the seamless and endless collection of small – and very person-specific – data.

My life insurance company has been so nice as to give me a free wearable. It’s not an Apple Watch, but it will do. The company promises to lower or at least maintain my current policy premium so long as I wear it often enough for them to check my vital signs and exercise routines – or the lack of them.

Wearable health tech about to get much smaller and possibly more invasive

Soon the company is going to know more about my health status than my family doctor – blood pressure, heart rates, time and duration of physical exercise and who knows what else.

I am beginning to think wearable tech is not so benign, after all.

Meanwhile, I just brought a new car and needed a new insurance policy.

The insurer charges quite a bit but then promises to lower my premium from next year – not only with the usual depreciation of the car’s value and if I make no accident claims.

It guarantees a much cheaper policy next year if I would just join their new hi-tech programme – provided I don’t crash my car, presumably. This involves putting a little tracking device under the steering wheel.

Every week, I receive an email telling me how many times I had put on the brake suddenly, accelerated abruptly, and whether I had been driving during “the witching hours”, the time of day, or rather night, when accidents are more statistically likely to occur. It probably has a GPS to track everywhere I go, though it doesn’t tell you all the things it tracks so as not to spook you too much.

Each year, there are now many academic and popular forums around the world with themes like “quantify yourself” or “know yourself”, usually about the new frontiers of wearables and related technology. Sure, it’s nice to know exactly how many steps you take to walk to your office, or how many calories you consume in each meal.

But wearables and similar tech are beginning to be more like “know your every customer”.