Fitness trackers: helpful or dangerous?

More and more people are using personal data for their health – and many are increasingly wary.

Almost every third person in Germany is now using so-called fitness trackers to monitor and record personal health data. This is the result of a representative survey carried out by Germany’s digital association Bitkom. The data people measure most are body temperature (99 per cent of users), body weight (75 per cent), number of steps taken (62 per cent) and distances covered (57 per cent). According to the survey, 31 per cent also measure their blood pressure with a conventional device, and in the age group above 65 years this actually rises to 60 per cent.  ‘The greatest future potential of wearables lies in the prevention of illnesses and in medical care for patients,’ says Bitkom’s managing director Dr Bernhard Rohleder.

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Alongside the increase in the number of users and the new opportunities in the health sector, critical voices are gradually becoming louder. The minister for consumer protection Heiko Maas said at the Safer Internet Day in Berlin: ‘Nobody should be forced to have his or her fitness monitored. This means, for instance, that health insurance companies should not be allowed to discriminate against people who do not wish to disclose their health data.’ Even the data themselves are the focus of criticism. The results of a consumer survey presented at the Safer Internet Day by the YouGov firm for market research and public opinion showed that many consumers see risks in the use of wearables. 32 per cent of the people in the survey feared the possibility of incorrect data measurements, 31 per cent feared incorrect health advice and 39 per cent regarded access to the data by third parties as risky.