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Is Fitness Tracking for Better Health Worth the Risk of Losing Privacy?

Would you require or incentivize your employees to share data from their fitness trackers if it would significantly lower premiums and/or improve their health?

In exchange for discounts, many insurance companies now offer interactive policies requiring members to share health data captured through wearable devices, such as smartwatches. Life insurance company John Hancock Financial announced last fall that it now only sells interactive policies.

A National Association of Insurance Commissioners representative explained that insurance companies use data from devices such as Fitbit to adjust premiums or give discounts. If insurers find that employees’ risk profile is lower because of healthy fitness habits, future premiums may be lowered.

Wearable fitness technology can track an individual’s heart rate, sleep patterns and steps taken — although many insurance companies only track steps taken.

Of course, insurance companies benefit from insuring healthier members and believe that members will be more active if they know they are monitored. Many people in these programs say they are more active when they know their progress is being monitored.

Another benefit to companies is that once members get used to using their smart devices, they tend to use other online services as well, including telemedicine for virtual doctor’s appointments instead of going to a clinic for minor issues.

But the question for companies is whether it’s worth it for employees to share this additional information, even if it does encourage them to be more fit if they feel it gives away too much of their privacy. 

Data privacy is also a concern for companies. While insurance companies maintain they follow strict privacy guidelines to keep data safe, breaches are more frequent. The theft of medical data from 78 million Anthem insurance company customers in 2015 shows how valuable medical data is to thieves. Experts worry that when more insurers collect fitness tracker data, cyber attackers will target these companies.