Hello. You’re listening to inQUERY. I’m Emily Goodwin, and I would like to welcome you to the journey from your wrist to the courtroom.
Nope, I read that correctly. This is a journey from your wrist to the courtroom.
I’m sure your reactions varied from serious confusion to utter astonishment, and maybe a little intrigue. I’m not insane, but maybe the idea I’m going to talk about it. In this episode, I am going to be exploring one of the many new purposes activity trackers are serving, and that is their rising role in the courtroom.
In my illumination “Employee Wellness Initiatives”, I expand upon another new use of wearable fitness trackers I discovered while researching for this podcast.
You may have begun to notice more people wearing some sort of activity tracking device - be it a FitBit wristband, watch, or zipper clip, a Bellabeat jewellry-style leaf, or one of the new Moov wristbands. Maybe you’ve seen the new T.V. commercial for FitBits, where everything you could possibly do in a day is fit (you can view the full commercial by searching for “Find Your Fit 2015” on YouTube).
In my blog post “Fitness vs. Activity Trackers”, I explain and clarify the difference between my use of “activity trackers” and “fitness trackers” in my podcast.
Tony Danova reported that 3.3 million wearable activity trackers were sold in the U.S. in just a one year period, between April of 2013 and March of 2014 (par. 2). Sales growth was 500% (par. 3). He estimates that this same amount of growth has occurred over the last 3 years (par. 3).
(Image from Pixabay, “Graph, growth, finance, profits, dividends, luck, bank”).
That means there’s a lot of these wristbands, zipper clip-ons, and leaf pendants out and about on the streets.
As with all new technology, there are always alternate uses discovered after the product is made available on the market. In the case of these wearable fitness trackers, it’s their potential use in the courtroom.
An Alberta woman is currently pursuing a lawsuit where she is using FitBit data as evidence of her injury (Olson, par. 1). The woman involved was seriously injured in a car accident in 2010. In the lawsuit, she is claiming that she has not been able to return to her active lifestyle. In November 2014, her lawyers advised her to begin wearing a FitBit. The team plans to collect data on her daily activity, and then demonstrate in court how her quality of life has diminished as a direct result of the accident (Olson, par. 7).
She has only recently began wearing a FitBit, and this originally raised concern over what her level of fitness was prior to the accident. For a regular person, this would be difficult to establish. The woman in question was a personal trainer.
I don’t know about your experiences, but I have never even heard of such a thing as an unfit personal trainer. Lawyers working on this case team must have never heard of such a thing either, because both sides quickly agreed her fitness level was quite high prior to the car accident (Olson, par. 2).
This isn’t the only evidence they are using in the case, but it will be far more accurate medical representation than the results of a quick examination by a doctor. These devices can paint a more accurate picture of someone’s fitness levels than can be seen by a human doctor.
The Canadian legal community believes this will be a precedent setting case for both civil and criminal cases (Olson, par. 8).
To read the full article, search for “Fitbit Data Now Being Used In The Courtroom” on Forbes.
South of the border, Fitbit data has already been used in a criminal case. Sort of. In Pennsylvania, a Florida woman visiting for business purposes called 911 one night during her stay claiming someone broke into the house she was staying in while she was sleeping and attacked and raped by an intruder. Upon analysis of her FitBit data, it was found that she hadn’t been sleeping that night. Instead, she had been up and walking around, including at the time she said the attack had occurred (Scott, par. 4).
In the American case, FitBit data wasn’t the only evidence that allowed authorities to conclude the attack didn’t actually happen. There were other things that determined the woman was not telling the truth, such as a lack of footprints in the snow outside the residence - it was wintertime when the incident took place - nor were there any signs of forced entry (Scott, par. 4). The FitBit data provided additional, insightful evidence that contradicted what the woman claimed happened to her, and allowed investigators to close the case.
In case you were wondering, the woman ended up with misdemeanor charges. Next time, she’ll know to take off her FitBit.
(Image from Pixabay, “Snow lane, tracks in the snow, winter, footprints”).
You can read more about this from ‘A Voice for Men’ by searching for “Fitbit data increasingly used as court evidence”.
These two stories I’ve told you may not seem like much, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. And just like a real iceberg, there is far more to this new use for activity trackers than meets the eye from a surface-layer, cursory glance.
(Image from Pixabay, “Ice, frozen, block, iceberg, winter, arctic, light blue”).
In both the Canadian and American cases, the data from their FitBits was used with their consent. What if in the future the data is collected without the explicit consent of the user?
There currently are no laws surrounding the use of wearable fitness tracker data in the courtroom. This translates to a fair game mentality when it comes to using this data. Its admissibility is determined by the judge on a case-to-case basis. As Tamsin McMahon writes in a Maclean’s article, debates over this form of evidence will not end until legislation is enacted over how this evidence can be entered, and under what circumstances it will deemed appropriate (par. 5).
McMahon stresses the importance of lawmakers sorting out this issue as soon as possible, before it gets out of hand (par. 5). She points out that similar legal challenges are being presented over the use of social media posts and activity in the courtroom, and we still haven’t reached decisions over using Facebook or Twitter in court (par. 5), so we have a long, uphill battle ahead of us over the use of fitness data as evidence.
I bet the inventors of Bellabeat or FitBits ever predicted their devices could be used to help convict people of crimes like robbery, assault, or murder - or for the opposite side, to prove a person’s innocence.
But that’s the best that these devices can do at this point - to help. They only add to the piles of evidence. At this point in time, they cannot be weighed too heavily by judges, juries, mediators, or arbitrators. This is largely due to the fact that they are not 100% accurate 100% of the time (McMahon, par. 5). They can only at best show an outline of a person’s activity.
I’d like to return to the Canadian story for a minute. The data being collected from the Alberta woman’s FitBit will not be presented in its raw form in the courtroom. Instead, it is being sent to an analytics company, Vivametrica, to professionally analyze the data (par. 4). This will then be interpreted and synthesized, and then finally be presented in the courtroom.
(Image from Pixabay, “Board, conductors, circuits, calculator, computer).
And in a way, this is great. Everything is already done for you. You don’t need extra time during the court proceedings to sit down with a pile of raw data, and try to figure out what it all means, and have people who aren’t professional data analysts try to interpret it.
But like all digital data, it can be hacked into and altered by people who know how to navigate their way through the inner workings of digital programs. So if someone really wanted to, they could pay a person to hack into the FitBit software and alter their data, moving their location to a different place from where a crime was committed, participating in a different activity, at a completely different time. Kind of like completely wiping out your internet search history so your technologically-challenged parents can’t see what you’ve been looking up online, but on a bigger, more intricate scale.
Privacy concerns also plague wearable fitness technology in the same way they plague every piece of technology and digital platform. Fitness trackers combine both of these.
I go into more detail in my blog post “How Private is my FitBit Data?”, if you’re interested in knowing more about this topic. This is just a brief overview of what scholars have to say.
James Gilmore writes in “Everywear: The quantified self and wearable fitness technologies” that this combination could make them prime targets for future cyber attacks, particularly because of how much personal data can be stored by these devices (p. 3). Wei Zhou and Selwyn Piramuthu are also concerned with vulnerabilities facing the Internet of Things at every corner (p. 1).
Check out my post “What in the World is IoT?” for a definition and explanation of the Internet of Things.
Wearable activity tracking devices are becoming more of a norm in today’s society. As Joseph Wei discusses, software innovations continue to improve the accuracy of these devices and how much information they are able to pick up (p. 55), and companies will continue to strive to create the perfect device that will dominate the wearable technology market.
With these innovations, fitness trackers will continue to grow in popularity. And as they continue to integrate themselves into our lives, courts will need to act quickly to accommodate for their potential use - and misuse - in the courtroom.
Thank you for listening to this episode of inQUERY. I hope I haven’t made you completely paranoid about the potentials of your fitness tracker, or have deterred you from buying one altogether. As with any piece of technology, there are alternative uses and opportunities for misuse. It’s up to you to make an informed choice and use the product the way you’re supposed to.
So go out and be fit any way you want to.
Once again, I’m Emily Goodwin. Thank you for joining me on this journey from your wrist to the courtroom.
All music and sound effects are from freesfk.co.uk, and are creative commons. These are the audio files used in the order they first appear in my episode.
“Magic Dream” - internetfilm
“Natures Way” - craigaustin
“Cartoom glockenspiel and plucked strings - short descending sound” - blastwavefx
“Way Back When - downtown groove tempo” - music4tv
“Person Exercising On Exercise Bike” - flowfx
“‘First Day’ - Alt Version - Light Hearted Acoustic Loop With Strings Drums, Bass, Guitar” - music4tv
“Let Me - Free, Royalty Free Music Track” - beatdock
“”Multimedia Button Click 012” - mckinneysound
Ajaschi. Snow Lane, Tracks in the Snow, Winter, Footprints. Digital image. N.p., 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Danova, Tony. "Just 3.3 Million Fitness Trackers Were Sold in the US in the past Year." N.p., 05 May 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Geralt. Board, Conductors, Circuits, Calculator, Computer. Digital image. N.p., 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Gilmore, James N. "Everywear: The Quantified Self and Wearable Fitness Technologies." N.p., 1 June 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
McMahon, Tamsin. "Expert Witness: Will Information from a FitBit Hold up in Court?" N.p., 05 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.
Olson, Parmy. "Fitbit Data Now Being Used in the Courtroom." N.p., 16 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
OpenClipartVectors. Ice, Frozen, Block, Iceberg, Winter, Arctic, Light Blue. Digital image. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
PublicDomainPictures. Graph, Growth, Finance, Profits, Dividends, Luck, Bank. Digital image. N.p., 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Scott, Glorianne. "Fitbit Data Increasingly Used as Court Evidence." N.p., 03 July 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
Wei, Joseph. "How Wearables Intersect with the Cloud and the Internet of Things : Considerations for the Developers of Wearables." IEEE Consumer Electron. Mag. 3.3 (2014): 53-56. Web. 23 Oct. 2015. Zhou, Wei, and Selwyn Piramuthu. "Security/privacy of Wearable Fitness Tracking IoT Devices." 2014 9th Iberian Conference on Information Systems and Technologies (CISTI) (2014): n. pag. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.