The Friday Roast - wearables and the Fitbit Force fraud

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 28, 2014
You can fool the Fitbit Force into believing that you are taking activity when you're not. Here's how. It's a fraud.

Every Sillycon Valley maven and his mangy dog are wetting themselves over wearables. Earlier in the week, Robert Scoble was salivating over what he describes as the 'smartwatch wars.' Sad isn't it but then we can blame The Verge for the headline: Samsung announces curved Gear S smartwatch with 3G. I am over freakin' whelmed - not. Personally, I worry that most of this stuff will turn out to be nonsense and I can prove why. The Fitbit Force, which the company has stopped selling following a recall and subsequent class action, doesn't record your activity accurately. In fact, you can fool it into recording virtually no activity.

I can prove that you don't have to do anything more strenuous than wave your arms about to make it believe you're recording steps. Seriously. How do I know? Well, the last few days, I've been humping my fat ass around a conference so I know I am getting plenty of those steps in. This makes a significant change to my usual sloth like behavior.

As someone desperately trying to find a way of holding back the ever expanding girth, getting those steps in is a matter of personal pride and achievement. I've been feeling rather proud of the fact that according to the Fitbit Force, I managed to put in close to 17,000 steps on one day. Of course my legs and back were complaining but that's another story.

Yesterday, I was walking up and down the hills of San Diego, as I settle down to temporary life in this part of California. As the day came to an end, I stopped at a watering hole to refuel and casually checked my steps reading. Not bad. Just shy of 7,ooo. Outside I stood propping up a trash can enjoying a well deserved ciggy (sic) and was shaking the aches out of my arm when I rechecked my steps.

To my amazement I'd mysteriously added some 20 more steps. Thinking I had misread the device I took careful note, swung my arm a few more times while shaking my wrist and voila! More steps were added. I tried a third time - same result. So - there you have it - proof positive that you can fool the Fitbit Force. The video at the top proves my point. (Apologies for the out of focus sections - the main stuff that shows the results is in sharp focus.)

Now I am beginning to wonder if I have been deluding myself. After all, when I speak with others I tend to wave my arms about a fair bit. And I've been speaking with a lot of people.

What is much more disturbing though is that this fraud is almost wholly unrecorded on the interwebs. Run a search and see what you find? Check out 'fitbit inaccuracy.' Almost nothing. Where you can find stuff on Facebook, commenters seem content to simply say 'get another device.' That's just not good enough.

Is it small wonder then that the medical profession doesn't give a shit about wearables? Earlier on the month, Venture Beat looked into this topic. They said:

The consumer health platforms being built by Google (Google Fit), Apple (Health Kit), and Samsung (SAMI), we’re told, will act as cloud repositories for health and biometrics data collected by wearable devices. They’re also supposed to foster sharing of health data sets by device, app, and analytics players.

If that wasn't problem enough guess what the medical profession's response was?

...sources in the medical devices, digital health, and healthcare industries say that most doctors have little time for, or interest in, using wellness data collected by wearable devices. They don’t want to spend money on additional (and unproven clinical systems), and most of all, they don’t want to worry about keeping the data private...

...Many of the wearables that will plug into the big health platforms will not be clinical grade. “Doctor’s do care about the reliability of the sampling and the quality of data,” says medical technology expert Jim Bloedau, “. . . although there’s little proof that consumer devices and self-measurements meet a clinically acceptable threshold.”

Venture Beat's points are well made but they utterly miss the central point - device originated data accuracy - not as it explains, data accuracy as transferred from device to systems of record.

Not one of the people they talked to was quoted as stressing that point or if they did then VB didn't get that nuance. I wont call them out for sloppy reporting but I remain concerned that big mouth titles and bigger mouth individuals get way more credit than their intellectual capabilities afford them on topics that matter to individuals as well as the industry at large.

The whole wearables hoopla is an example of how an over eager fashion chasing media misses the point and in doing so, whether by design or by omission, popularizes a topic without understanding what the heck they're talking about as it affects the lives of other people.

And just for your added pleasure - check this from BCN:

Market research company ABI Research forecasts that wearable device technologies will become an integral part of enterprise mobile enablement strategies over the next five years, with the enterprise wearables market hitting US$18 billion by 2019.

Please - don't all laugh at once.

Now - before anyone says I'm a sourpuss on a topic that is fashionable - I see tremendous opportunity to benefit people from activity tracking and the downstream apps that might be built. It's a topic I've discussed privately with senior execs inside some of the large vendors. But like all technology, it is only as good as the underpinnings allow.

I am very annoyed about this. Fitbit has defrauded me of $129 for something that, when it isn't burning people's skin, is an utter waste of money. The question everyone should be asking though is this: how many other devices are making it up as they go along and what does this mean for healthcare in the future? I think I already know the answer but you decide for yourself.

Endnote: Having seen the video, one commenter wonders whether this is a fraud or simply suboptimal performance. I reckon this is way beyond sub-optimal, especially given the ease with which I fooled the device.

On Twitter, Gary Turner gave us a giggle:

 Related stories from around the web

A grey colored placeholder image