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I Know What’s Tracking Me…I Think?



Two applications that constantly use my data are my Nike Fitness app and Uber. I primarily use my Nike app to monitor my mileage while running. A similar app, the Health app on my iPhone, could perform a similar function. Yet, I appreciate that Nike provides many more services. It tracks my pace, my location while drawing out a route map, and also allows me to publish these results to a community of other runners. I do worry about how Nike protects this data. By keeping track of my location and running routes, it’s very easy to tell where I live. Also, if I share my progress through the social media element, I am exposing some sensitive data to the general public.

Nike claims they protect the privacy of members using this app. After two years of inactivity, they aggregate your data, and after five years, it is deleted. This is assuring, in a sense, but I know it can’t be very secure. For example, my own MyFitnessPal data, a service run by Under Armour, was hacked just this past year. Both Nike and Under Armour are two huge apparel companies seeking to use big data to better match consumers to products, but that doesn’t mean they know how to protect it. I assume Nike is just as vulnerable as MyFitnessPal was. Also, I predict Nike uses this data to target advertising to my “athletic profile.” Even though they “protect” my data, that doesn’t mean they don’t use it themselves to better market to me.

Yet, I am making the active choice to sacrifice security for usability with this app. For example, I could use Apple’s more secure Health app. It only tracks mileage without keeping track of my running routes or providing the community forum. While my iPhone is still tracking my location, comparatively, the Health app leaves me less vulnerable. Yet, I’m making the conscious choice to favor usability over security in my Nike app.

I also think it’s important to recognize the awesome right I had to make a choice to opt for Nike’s app over Apple’s. Health is pre-loaded on iPhones and is really not updated enough to compete with other fitness apps. Just because it is in my phone, doesn’t mean it will be my first choice. In a similar misstep to Mark Zuckerburg forcing people to use Facebook apps with, I chose the Nike Fitness app over the Health app Apple pushed on me. This is because the platform itself, my phone, allows others to create better solutions to my fitness needs than Apple could’ve realized when it built its app. Nike adjusted to be better than Apple could’ve known, and that’s the point! Yet, this adaptation also meant more of my data was being used.

Underlying this choice is the importance of net neutrality: the concept that Internet Service Providers have to treat all web access the same. So a company, like Apple, can’t just pay to have their apps run at a faster speed in order to gain a competitive advantage over other apps. For example, if the internet was too slow on my Nike app to give me real-time results, the Health app would be my choice. The ability to make this choice in a fair market is important so I can have the best possible app or internet service every single time. More broadly, it’s important to have competition so that small companies can challenge the giants. As a consumer, competition can help keep giant companies in check – avoiding giant, unresponsive monopolies from forming.

Another vastly important app that keeps data on me is Uber. It tracks my location, keeps track of what city I’m in, and even saves locations that I frequent. Similar to the Nike Fitness app, I am very pleased that Uber monitors my location, favorite locations, and recent activity. It makes the app more user friendly. For example, if I want to go home, I don’t even need to type in my address. I can just look at my recent locations.

First and foremost, Uber uses my data to improve its services. From tracking wait times, to the time it takes for me to reach locations, this all helps Uber better understand its customer. While this may help the app route drivers more effectively or reduce wait times, it does produce headaches through “surge pricing.” The company knows when there will be peak traffic, and  up-charges to take advantage of it. Often, Uber is the most viable way around during these surged times, so people have to swallow an awfully inflated price. Yet, the ability to choose competitor Apps like Lyft and Via should help keep these prices in check. I am particularly interested to see how the growth of Via will affect Uber’s pricing.

Uber is less stringent in terms of privacy compared to Nike. They collect much more data, including demographic, device, communication, and activity data. Also, there are legitimate paths for companies to obtain a user’s data. One way that shocked me was through user promos. Everyone loves to find a promo code for a free ride or a discounted rate, but the company that pays for the promotion can access the data of people who use the code. This is a treasure trove of information for companies. And I know people don’t realize there is a transaction occurring when they use a promo code – I surely didn’t. It’s not a gift to consumers, but really a sale of consumer data.

Yet, I risk Uber misusing my data for convenience and to achieve a higher level of safety. Uber, more than a few times, has been important to keep me safe in compromising situations. I’ve used Uber to get home after a late night out with friends where I don’t feel comfortable walking or taking public transportation. Or, multiple times, I have found myself in unsafe places where Uber was my only way out. Disclosing my information is definitely worth the protection this app provides for me.

With both of these apps it’s worth considering other areas in my life where my personal data is more vulnerable. My Nike Fitness app and Uber are not the apps that concern me the most in terms of personal data. I disclose a ton of information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that a bad actor could use to target me. Even my phone knows so much about me. At least I’m aware my data is out there!

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