Fitbit, amusement, forensics, and enemies
Have you logged all 10,000 of your today’s steps? Has anybody else found them?
Fitness trackers are a booming industry, helping people get and stay in shape and sharing their progress with friends and occasionally complete strangers.
These include the Moov Now, Samsung Gear Fit, Huawei Band, Tom Tom Spark, and about 350 other products, with the FitBit and apps for the Apple Watch likely being the most well-known. One of these devices’ more entertaining and appealing features is the ability to map your movements.
A potential murderer can be apprehended using FitBit data.
Fitness trackers can provide evidence in the most serious of situations when used in less jovial situations. Richard Dabate told Connecticut law enforcement at the end of 2015 about a break-in where the robber killed his wife as he was chasing the intruder away. The issue was that her FitBit’s subpoenaed records showed she was still active an hour after the alleged murder and that she had walked ten times farther than necessary to come into the now-fantasized murderer’s line of sight. Dabate was detained for the crime in addition to other computer, Facebook, and cellphone evidence and the fact that he had a pregnant girlfriend. Mr. as of this writing Dabate is still out on a million dollar bail.
FitBit data helps an innocent man go free
Nicole Vander Heyder left her home in Green Bay, Wisconsin in May 2016 to go out on the town. Her naked, bloody body was discovered nearby in a farm field. She was arrested, but Doug Detrie, her boyfriend, initially appeared to be shocked by the news and insisted on his innocence. Detrie was held on a $1 million bond but was eventually freed after it was determined that the blood found in the car, the garage, and a suspicious spot on the bottom of his shoe were not the victim’s, a human’s, or Detrie’s blood, respectively. Doug took only a dozen or so steps during Nicole’s death, according to data from his FitBit.
Nicole’s clothes contained DNA evidence that George Burch was actually a completely different man. With his Gmail account connected to Burch’s Android phone, Google Dashboard data displayed GPS location information leading directly to Nicole’s home. He was eventually accused of first-degree murder, proved guilty, and given a life sentence in prison, where he still maintains his innocence.
FitBit data used to try to find a missing person
Student Mollie Tibbett, who was studying in Iowa, went for a jog in July 2018 but hasn’t been seen since. Although they have her FitBit data to help them find her, the police haven’t made public what they discovered in it. It seems that the geolocation data therein wasn’t sufficient to locate her. Even though more information from her cell phone and social media accounts has been combed for hints, as of August 6, 2018, there have been no reports of her being located, despite the fact that there seem to be people of interest. Hopefully her FitBit will eventually provide investigators with location data that will help them find her right now.
FitBit data banned by the military
You may have recently read news reports stating that the Army is concerned about how data from fitness trackers and gadgets like the Apple Watch could compromise military operations and security. A military official was quoted as saying, “The moment a soldier dons a piece of equipment that can record high-definition audio and video, take photos, process data, and transmit data, there is a very real chance that they could be tracked or accidentally reveal military secrets… When used by military personnel, wearables with Internet access, location data, and voice calling capabilities should be regarded as a breach of national security regulations.” However, did you know that this news was published in May 2015? And did you know that it was a Chinese military official in the Liberation Army Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Army?
Yes, some foreign governments have been outlawing these devices for quite some time.
FitBit geolocation data banned by the US Military
In 2013, the DOD distributed 2,500 FitBits to military personnel; in 2015 the Navy planned to run a pilot program to help the enlisted and their superiors keep track of fitness goals, and “allow Real-time monitoring of soldier fitness by Army leaders.”
Fitbit users number over 10 million, excluding those who are in the military. The data can be viewed online, on a mobile device, or through the desktop application. In addition to tracking movement, Fitbit’s app also lets users record other health data. Fitbit then makes use of this data to show development over time.
Maps of subscribers’ movements using FitBit and other fitness tracking devices are created and displayed by the Strava manager, a companion app. A global heat map created by Strava using 3 trillion GPS data points uploaded over the course of the previous two years was published in November 2017. Nathan Ruser, an Australian security student, zoomed in on the maps to find favorite routes taken by military fitness enthusiasts at previously secret bases. For Somalian dissidents, the locations frequented by military personnel on heat map trails around and in Mogadishu could have served as potential targets.
As one might imagine, the Army on August 7, 2018 banned use of geolocation features in iPhones, Apple Watch, FitBit and other fitness trackers with the following directive: “As of right away, Defense Department employees are not permitted to use the geolocation capabilities of issued government and non-government-issued gadgets, programs, and services while they are in areas that have been designated as operational zones.” The use and ownership of the devices are not completely prohibited.
The (FitBit) Law of Unintended Consequences
There are three types of unintended consequences (according to Wikipedia)
An Unexpected Benefit: A favorable unexpected benefit, such as the release of an accused murderer from custody and proof of his innocence thanks to his FitBit. It demonstrated inaction when the crime would have required a lot of movement, as was the case with Doug Detrie and Nicole Vander Heyder, rather than the success of an athletic endeavor.
An unexpected drawback is a disadvantage that occurs in addition to the policy’s intended outcome, such as when a FitBit reveals that a crime’s alleged victim—in this case, Richard Dabate and his wife—was actually the one who committed the crime.
An unintended consequence, such as when military personnel using a FitBit to monitor their fitness progress make themselves visible to an enemy as potential targets.
Hopefully none of these occurrences will happen to any of my readers.
Maintain your health and keep track, but be aware that you might be disclosing more than you mean to.