Wearables and fitness trackers
Wearable devices, also called wearable technology or wearable tech.
Can be worn as clothing or accessories, such as smart watches, fitness bands and trackers and medical devices.
What are wearable devices?
Wearables are smart electronic devices that often link via the internet or Bluetooth to apps on computers, tablets or smartphones. Many have sensors to collect physical and biological information, as well as allowing location tracking, which may be used to map the places you have been while doing your exercise routine.
The most popular wearable devices are
- fitness bands and trackers
Emerging wearable technologies include
- digital glasses
- GPS-enabled cameras
- clothing, including headbands and caps
- rings and bracelets
- hearing aids, contact lenses and other health-related devices
Some wearable devices embedded in jewellery and clothing often cannot be detected by others.
What are the risks associated with wearable devices?
Many wearable devices are linked to apps which collect data that you can use to track aspects of your day-to-day life — such as the number of steps taken, your heart rate or sleeping patterns.
Some apps collect information for marketing purposes, and you may automatically agree to this when you agree to the app's terms and conditions.
Data collected and stored in the cloud may not be stored securely — it could be stolen or sold to third parties. If you lose a device, this could allow an individual or company to access any information stored on the device — the device may also be at risk of hacking.
The biggest risk is over-sharing information. Most fitness trackers and smart watches allow users to link with friends, giving them access to sleep patterns, exercise times and locations and other health information. Should an uninvited person link to you, they will have access to information about your activity and routines. This can be a particular risk in some circumstance, for example, if you are worried about an ex-partner getting access to this information. Find out more about protecting your personal safely if you are experiencing or at risk of or domestic and family violence.
How to use fitness trackers safely
Lots of people use fitness trackers to help them stay active.
Fitness trackers collect information including exercise and sleep patterns which can be fun and helpful for a user.
This video shows how to use the privacy settings on a popular fitness tracker - a Fitbit. Most other brands of fitness tracker will have similar privacy settings.
First, Change all Settings to ‘Private’.
If the App or device is reset or reinstalled, the Settings must be changed to ‘Private’ again.
If a Fitness Tracker app doesn’t have Privacy settings, it should not be used by anyone at risk of abuse or stalking.
Anyone at risk of abuse or stalking should be careful if a perpetrator has given them or their child a fitness tracker. They may have synced it to their own device and be able to monitor the user’s activity and location.
Don’t link Fitness tracker apps to social media accounts. This can give away information including location.
To check if a Fitbit is connected to social media accounts, go to the Dashboard, select Settings, select Sharing. Select ‘Unlink’.
Users should also be cautious about syncing a fitness tracker with groups, including fitness groups. If a user wants to sync to one of these groups they should change all fitness tracker settings to ‘private’ so others can’t collect their information.
When labelling a Fitness tracker, the user should not use their name or anything that would identify them. It should be called something that doesn’t give the identity of the person away or the fact that it is a Fitness Tracker.
Fitness Trackers should only be synced to a device that is in the control of the user.
Fitness trackers should not be synced using public or unsecured wi-fi hotspots as these are easy to hack.
What can I do about the risks?
Follow these simple steps to limit the risks related to using wearable devices
- Make sure that your device is only paired via Bluetooth with another device you are aware of and can control.
- Manage your device even when it is not in use — store it in a safe place, where someone else cannot access it, whenever you take it off.
- Only link data about your personal challenges and exercise habits with your trusted friends.
- Some devices allow you to be very specific and choose which information you share with each of your friends. This means you can choose to share different information with different friends.
- Many devices allow you to collect different types of personal data — make informed choices about what personal information you want to collect.
- Do you use a company-provided wearable device? Ask your company what information they collect from employees — some companies require access to employee's devices so that they can track work locations.
Always use a strong password for your apps and for any devices that read your information, such as your phone. Read advice on setting strong passwords and protecting your personal information.