The Privacy Risks of Your Pedometer

Pedometer and smartphone step tracker

Perhaps you didn’t want all the features of a fitness tracker. Or you didn’t want to spend the money to buy a fitness tracker. Maybe all you really wanted was a device to count the number of steps you take so you could track your physical activity throughout the day. Whatever made you decide to buy a pedometer it probably wasn’t so you could reveal your private health information to unknown third parties. Unfortunately, even many simple pedometers can pose a risk to your privacy.

Walking Is Growing as the Exercise of Choice

No need to purchase an expensive gym membership, no equipment to buy, no need to go to a special location. Walking is convenient, inexpensive and so easy almost anyone can do it. There are many health benefits to a vigorous walk. This can include weight loss, managing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, stronger bones, improved mood and more.

Measuring the number of steps you walk in a day can help motivate and encourage you to keep up an exercise routine. For that reason, many people contemplate buying a pedometer or a pedometer app for their phone. This simple device can help you spot trends in you walking. Moreover, motivate you to improve and help you keep an accurate record of your activity. If you’ve opted for a pedometer, don’t forget to think about your privacy before making that purchase.

In a Pedometer Less Is More

A pedometer or pedometer app does just one thing – it measures the number of steps you take. Fitness trackers count steps, measure heart rate, act as an alarm, monitor your sleep, and more. One good reason to opt for a simpler pedometer is that there is less risk of having private information fall into someone else’s hands.

Fitness trackers monitor a lot of health information. In the event your privacy is compromised, someone may end up knowing far more about your health than you would ever want to become public. A pedometer on the other hand, since it only counts the steps you take, poses less of a risk to your privacy.

However, even though a pedometer collects less health information about you, it can still pose a risk to your privacy. Sensitive information collected through your pedometer could expose vital information about you if revealed.

Spotting the Trend in the Data

Smartphone Location MarkerIn years past, spotting trends in data used to require specially trained people going through mounds of paper to pick out the key bits of information. Today, almost anyone with a computer can instantly analyze mountains of data to pick out trends. If someone hacks your pedometer data they could expose trends about your walking.

With this data it is easy to find out what time you spend walking and how far you walk. More concerning, spotting a trend in what time of day you prefer to go for a walk could easily lead to thieves knowing the best time to break into your home. By spotting trends in your walking, it could be easy to spot what time you go to work, what time you leave your desk for lunch, and much more. Even the modest data from your pedometer can provide valuable information for data thieves looking to create a profile of your life.

Location Data is Valuable

Because your pedometer is likely on you at all times, if it also provides location data about where you walked, which compromises your privacy. Building an advertising profile for targeted ads is improved drastically if location data can be correlated with other information in your profile. Where your web searches and site activity only provide a picture of what your activity is online, location data provides a much fuller picture of who you are offline.

Pedometers often track location to show the route you walked and how far you’ve gone. But that same information can reveal your home and work addresses. Your steps into and around your favorite grocery store, restaurant, and local pub are given away by your handy pedometer. Even information about which doctor you visit, whether you are visiting a new specialist or visit the pharmacy may be tracked by the location data attached to your pedometer.

How Active Are You?

Information about your health is some of the most valuable and personal information that can be gathered. For this reason, many health insurance companies offer a discount if you share information from a pedometer or fitness tracker. Failure to walk enough steps could result in a rise in your premiums over the coming years. Many people are comfortable sharing this information in the hopes of scoring a discount on premiums. However, this might also work against you. Fail to meet some specified quota of activity and you may not only lose your discount, but also end up paying an increase in premiums for years to come.

Protect Your Privacy

We live in an age where information is the most valuable commodity. Many companies exist solely on the profit from gathering, collecting, and analyzing information. You have a right to protect your privacy, especially when it comes to information about your health. Simply recognizing the potential for an invasion of privacy can help you make more informed decisions about how you use a pedometer and the steps you take to guard your privacy.

One simple tool that can have a major impact on protecting your privacy is a VPN service. By connecting to the internet through a VPN, you make your data anonymous. Because the website or service never connects directly with your device, the VPN service functions as a middleman, keeping your information private. To learn more about how a VPN might help you keep your information private, check out our post on choosing the best VPN for your needs.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.