Fitbit Data Reveals Pregnancy

A man learned his wife was pregnant from her Fitbit data.

The details of the story are weird. The man posted the data to Reddit and asked for analysis help. But the point is that the data can reveal pregnancy, and this might not be something a person wants to tell a company who can sell that information for profit.

And remember, retailers want to know if one of their customers is pregnant.

Posted on February 12, 2016 at 12:16 PM • 13 Comments

Comments

DanielFebruary 12, 2016 1:03 PM

This is done all the time in the grocery business. Places such as Wal-Mart can tell when a woman has become pregnant because her buying habits change and so they then send her marketing material. There is, of course, a privacy aspect to this behavior that has been debated before. My only point is that Fitbit is merely the extension of a pre-existing trend.

phred14February 12, 2016 1:22 PM

I remember reading a while back that Fitbit was going for hippa certification, tied to the fact that they'd like to get into corporate insurance wellness programs.

I rather like the idea of a Fitbit and learning more about my body's responses, patterns, etc, but I'm not so fond of letting that information leak to who knows who. Does anyone know if the hippa certification would protect the entire line, or just the "corporate insurance model", and the over-the-counter model still leaves me wondering who's got my bio-signs.

ianfFebruary 12, 2016 2:03 PM


@ phred14 […] “rather likes the idea of a Fitbit and learning more about my body's responses, patterns, etc

You already know your body's responses, patterns, etc., now you only want to see them quantified so you can accept what you feel, but don't quite dare to believe. Strangely enough, humanity did without such contraptions for ages, and if they tomorrow "went away," nobody but the self-deluded about their utility would notice their absence.

As to “who's got your bio signs,” you may own the Fitbit over your wrist, but, once the collected data points get dispatched to a remote server, you lose them to the mothership. In fact, in philosophical terms, the Fitbit (system) owns you in no smaller degree than you own the wristband.

DavidSFebruary 12, 2016 3:30 PM

Allowing any organization to have your personal bio signs not only affects your privacy. It also affects the privacy your children, grand children, great grand children, etc. They will use your metadata to assess your children's potential. Period! You may not give a crap about your privacy, but have you asked your great grand children, if they mind you destroying theirs. No one takes their privacy seriously. Period!

MartVFebruary 12, 2016 8:02 PM

"phred14 • February 12, 2016 1:22 PM
I remember reading a while back that Fitbit was going for hippa certification, tied to the fact that they'd like to get into corporate insurance wellness programs."

It's HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), not HIPPA. Common mistake.

PeanutsFebruary 12, 2016 8:19 PM

Fitbit sync should encrypt data with a user space key the company doesn't possess. That would have properly protected the wife from un-authorized acts of husbandry stupid.

In this case I suspect he's also the family IT guy. Insider threat is hard to defend against.

Peanuts

UhuFebruary 13, 2016 9:18 AM

Does anybody know of any activity trackers similar to a FitBit, but for which no cloud and no smart phone is needed? I'd do my own analysis of the data if I could download it directly to my Linux machine.

pi.February 14, 2016 7:17 AM

This doesn't surprise me in the least. The changes in RHR were obvious when my partner was pregnant recently; she wore a similar watch with optical HR. We found out in a more conventional fashion, however it was easy to observe the change.

Sion JesseFebruary 14, 2016 1:24 PM

This is very interesting to me! As a Fitbit Charge HR user, I can't imagine getting into the fat burn heart rate zone (mine is set to the default, I haven't double-checked if hers is) for that long. My body has been through many states over the years, but I've only had my fitness band for the past four months or so. If things weren't what they are, I'd be tempted to become pregnant just to see if it had an impact on my heart rate.

- born, assigned female at birth
- went through essentially a female puberty
- started testosterone injections with my doctor for transition to male
- paused testosterone treatments to get ready to try to conceive
- pregnancy
- still off testosterone for a period while nursing the child
- on testosterone while nursing the child
- on testosterone, nursing, but got ovaries/tubes/uterus/cervix all gutted
- on testosterone and the child is weaned
- on testosterone and wearing a fitness band (and I'm fully legally male now, including on my birth certificate)

I've certainly noticed relative changes in what constitutes rigorous activity that gets my heart rate going over the years. Even now, maybe because I am 26, walking briskly still gets me into the fat burn zone after a while. I remember that when I was pregnant, some of the changes my body went through were things that you could read about on any general site offering up information about pregnancy, but others were... quite intense. For example, I left my work as a programmer like a few days after I conceived (not knowing at that point that I was indeed pregnant). My work really only required me to walk there, sit at my desk and code, and walk home, so it was not a physically rigorous activity, but through the first 16 weeks gestation, I was so overwhelmingly physically exhausted that I kept thinking there was no way I could have held down a job during that time. I slept like a lion. It would have been interesting to have the Fitbit Charge HR that I have right now all throughout that entire time.

Granted, of course I am weary of people in general giving all of this data to Fitbit. I personally don't care and think it's worth the cost to see the information myself. But I would have thought the Fitbit + MyFitnessPal combination would be very tedious during pregnancy unless you used what you thought was a reliable TDEE calculator and adjusted it for how much extra you thought you should generally eat each trimester and while breastfeeding. I think that human bodies are way too diverse in their needs to get the numbers anywhere close to accurate, though. Also, if I spent 18 hours sleeping right now, Fitbit would record a much lower number of calories burned and MyFitnessPal would be telling me not to eat much at all, which wouldn't necessarily be appropriate during pregnancy. Even one that did not include any vomiting (which I'm sure would render any of this information useless to the user).

My experience living under many different hormonal palettes throughout my life is that your hormones may really dictate what your body "wants to do" more than you even realize. This is very apparent when you're inducing a major hormonal change while maintaining a lifting regimen, and it is noticeable for runners as well.

Green SquirrelFebruary 15, 2016 7:53 AM

A tad OT but I really disagree with this from @ianf:

You already know your body's responses, patterns, etc., now you only want to see them quantified so you can accept what you feel, but don't quite dare to believe.

Most people dont and never have. We know proxies for some of them (such as we can tell when we are breathing hard etc) but an amazing number of people are unable to tell (for example) if they are exercising at about 60% MHR vs 80% MHR. Few if any people can accurately describe how active they are in a given day, or how well they sleep or even how long sex lasts.

Strangely enough, humanity did without such contraptions for ages

Correct but we could say the same for pretty much everything we have in society today. Despite this few people are advocating a return to a time before medicine, clothing, electricity and computers.

and if they tomorrow "went away," nobody but the self-deluded about their utility would notice their absence.

A lack of utility to you is not the same as a general lack of utility and it is self-delusion to think that anything else is true.

JoeFebruary 15, 2016 9:07 AM

Would have to agree that this isn't a surprise to me, my partner actually figured out she was pregnant because of the RHR changes. Luckily it was a happy surprise for us!
Knowledge is power and that is the monetization of your data is a concept as old as time. If you don't like living on the grid, then you won't be able to enjoy most of the benefits of the modern world. I say, so what? Maybe I will be in need of a diaper subscription, so maybe I don't mind If I'm marketed to. After all, it's how the world goes round...

strawberryshortcakeFebruary 15, 2016 10:21 AM

 Woah.. I need to get myself one then. LOL. We're now tryng for another addtion and Im back taking fertility pills from pregnancytips .org.. Praying for a positive PT soon and for a little girl.. But I will surely buy one of these too.. 

Clive RobinsonDecember 18, 2016 8:15 AM

@ Moderator,

Any post that has "I am here to share this testimony" in it as does the one from "Jolie Robin" above, should be dispatched immediately to that bit bucket down below...

Oh and I wish you a happy winter festival and new year, I'd like to say "spam free" but that, as they say, "aint never gona happen".

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.