Wearing an activity tracker gives insurance companies the data they need to discriminate against people like you

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/02/23/actuary-vs-actuality.html


It bears repeating: if a service or product is offered by a for-profit corporation for free then you are the product.


Is the solution to flood the insurance co’s incoming data stream with data that looks like everyone is highly active? It might require breaking the DMCA to get their encryption/signing keys. This assumes their servers only accept activity data that’s been signed with their secret key.

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Give me all the fit bits to glue to my truck wheels. They will get quite a good jog on my way to work


Step 1: buy activity tracker
Step 2: attach to dog
Step 3: giggle about the data


Maybe we could get a large enough percentage of people to put their ceiling fans to use…


…the real business model… [is] dividing the world into high-risk and low-risk people, so insurers can charge people more.

This would be illegal under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and repeal is looking less and less possible.


No, it’s state-run universal health insurance, but this is one of those situations where if you flatly ignore an obvious truth for long enough, it starts to seem implausible because why else would we all have denied it for so long?


Wouldn’t a Roomba do the job?


I will say this again, because it never seems to gain traction: you are only as free as your neighbors feel like being. In the end you have to either accept what everyone else is okay with, or opt out of a large chunk of society.

If everyone in the world is okay wearing a tracking device 24/7 to receive phone calls, it will at the very least seem weird that you are not. If they’re okay with DRM, constant monitoring, and being locked out of their own devices, then you will have to be as well as part of the price of using consumer technology. If everyone is okay keeping an e-surance black box hooked up to their car for a discount, then eventually you will find that a the non-discount rate has become prohibitively high.

Where the market and networked technology meet, the rights that your neighbors are willing to regularly sacrifice eventually stop being rights. If none of your generally-reasonable peers have expectation of privacy, control, and ownership, then neither can you. And the sad thing is that, ultimately, most of those rights were sold away cheap.


This applies to trackers provided to you. Neither my fitbit nor my Apple Watch provide information to my insurance company because I purchased them myself. I also skip “wellness screening” provided by my insurer, not by my doctor. The results go to the insurance company. No thanks, i prefer the laws around doctor confidentality with my own doctor.

This is a big reason i opted out of a company provided phone and use my own phone. I can revoke my company’s profile on the phone whenever I want, and I know exactly what that profile gives them rights to do.

But the world has been converted to a “free” is better than “paid for” so people opt for the free one instead of considering the costs.

BTW, I think Cory’s example is over-simplified. Dividing the pool into high-risk and low-risk doesn’t really make them more money because while they charge the high-risk pool more, the expenses are higher. And they have to charge the low-risk pool less, reducing profits from that side. It’s in the insurance companies benefit for the pools to be mixed so the low-risk people pay for the high-risk people in the same pool.

At the same time I’d rather the insurance companies not have this info about me.


I was on an insurance that offered activity trackers for a while. The way it worked for us was this:

Everybody gets a free pedometer (or you can use your own device if you like, or ignore the program entirely, or whatever).

From an individual’s perspective, you could monitor your own activity levels pretty well. There was a website that showed how much exercise you were getting. You could voluntarily provide more details, like what foods you ate, how much water you drank, etc. The system would give you tips on being healthier, with little reminders to get up and move around. In many ways, it was similar to what you might get out of any fitness tracking website. Additionally, reaching certain goals (i.e., lose 20 lbs, stay active for X days in a row, etc) would reward you with points. Points could be traded in for stuff, including amazon gift cards.

From a company’s perspective, the company could get discounted rates based on participation and average fitness level across employees.

Between the gift cards and discounted rates, there was obviously some financial compensation for being healthy. This was phrased as being legal because they weren’t penalizing people for being unhealthy, they were just rewarding people for being healthy.

On one hand, that certainly sounds like weasel logic to me. If you give healthy people cheaper rates, isn’t that the same as having unhealthy people pay more? Also, wearing an activity tracker in exchange for money is disconcerting. Is this a slippery slope? Are we normalizing the idea of tracking our own movements?

On the other hand, it really did encourage me (and a lot of my co-workers) to be more active. The insurance was pretty good, even without the fitness tracking bits. I’d go back to it if I could. Is that shameful of me? I was more active on that insurance than I have been since. My health insurance company already has frighteningly detailed information about my health. Does it hurt to show them how much I move around during the day?

Other things to note:

Some countries have a fat tax, where obesity results in higher taxes. It seems to have worked pretty well in Japan, not so well in Denmark. It’s based on the idea that overweight people consume more health care resources that fit people. This seems to be a similar idea to what insurance companies are trying to do here, though as far as I know, the taxation version does not require people to wear a tracker.

Also, the idea that overweight people cost more is not well supported. The only study I can find suggests that overweight people actually end up costing less over the course of their lives, but only because they don’t live long enough to get “old age” problems. The study did not seem to touch on the idea that longer-living people can be productive for longer.


Not sure about GPS ankle bracelets, but most of the normal activity trackers rely on a repetitive jolt of movement on the accelerometer to mark walking. A roomba would probably glide too smoothly, and also be tough to keep it moving for long periods.

With a fan, you can just add something else to give it a regular shake to go along with the motion…


I apologize, this “obvious truth” of which you speak is not so obvious to me, can you please elaborate ?

I’m currently chasing points in a corporation’s insurance-discount program, the spouse of the primary subscriber. As a 4’5", 200lb elderly trapeze artist who sleeps 11 hrs every day and whose primary mode of exercise is moustache-twirling I sincerely hope I haven’t wrecked things for my demographic group’s future. Signing up involved a lot of open-ended questionnaires.


Well, I could attach it to one of our cats, but they laze around even more than I do.

Still don’t have one of these and don’t ever plan to. Whoever says “I need to get my steps” one more time, I’m going to kick him.


I used to do this to get a discount from my employer’s health insurance. It was a huge loophole. Every June I’d self-report my weight as 260 lbs and my BMI as 29.9. Then along about October, I’d show up for my wellness check weighing my normal 240 and BMI of 24.5, thus triggering a significant discount for the next year for my “weight loss” and “healthy lifestyle.” Same thing every year, and they never caught on.


Cory, I am disappointed that you are trying to get people paranoid with this type of post.

There are actually laws against insurers using your personally identifiable health information against you when determining your coverage, and they are called GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Not that these cannot get repealed, but I have serious doubts that people would allow either to be repealed.

As you can see by some of the other posts, these tracker-based insurance programs help show your active lifestyle can can get you a discount versus punish you for bad behavior. Please quit spreading the paranoia, lest we end up in the “fake news” realm on Boing Boing!


Welcome to BoingBoing!


As the folks over at LGM point out, the hard-line conservative/libertarian/individualists are at war with the very idea of insurance. It’s so collective, ew.

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