Feed Me More Data, Seymour!

When fitness trackers started becoming affordable and popular many people knew that this was right around the corner:

Life insurance company John Hancock will stop offering traditional policies, according to Venture Beat. Instead, the company, which is one of the oldest and largest life insurance underwriters in the US, will only sell policies that track fitness and health data.

The company will offer two different types of insurance: the basic Vitality offering will require customers to enter their fitness activity into an app or on a website. They will receive gift cards and other rewards for completing goals. For a discount of up to 15 percent on premiums, though, John Hancock is offering an expanded insurance policy that will track health data and fitness using wearable devices.

Insurance companies are in the business of risk mitigation and have therefore always had an interest in collecting as much data as possible on the property and people they insure. Fitness trackers and apps provide data that can be pretty valuable to health and life insurance companies since they give some indication about an individual’s health. The danger of this kind of policy is that the insurance company gets possession of the data. Even if you trust your insurance company to not sell that data to third parties (which is something you should never trust a company to refrain from doing), the chances of that data falling into unauthorized hands through a database breach are high. Another potential danger is that this data could be used to identify unlawful activity.

Most illegal substances cause changes in heart rate. If an individual’s heart rate changes without any obvious reason (such as they’re exercising), that information could potentially be used at evidence that they’re using illegal substances. If law enforcers suspect that you’re using illegal substances, they could acquire your health data via a subpoena and use it as probable cause to get an arrest warrant issued. Worse yet, if your health data indicates that you might be using illegal substances, your insurance company might decide to hand that data over to law enforcement voluntarily. In a nation where so many activities are illegal, handing out health data can be dangerous.