Over the holiday weekend, there were fireworks over at Fitbit.com after techie Andy Baio noticed that the self-trackers the company caters to were revealing their sexual activity stats online.
Angel-funded start-up Fitbit makes thumb-sized, plastic, accelerometer-equipped devices that track users’ steps, sleep and calories burned. As I noted when I reviewed the device in February, you can also keep track of your exercise manually, including sexual activity — ranging from “passive, light effort” to “active and vigorous;” unfortunately, even at its most “difficult,” it doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as the elliptical at the gym.
More unfortunately, the company has historically made users’ profiles and activity public by default, to encourage social sharing and competitiveness. Some Fitbit users may not have realized this, given that the records of approximately 200 Fitbit users’ sex-ercise were showing up in Google search results. “Dear Fitbit users, Kudos on the 30 minutes of sexual activity,” wrote Gizmodo.
The company pulled a quickie once made aware of the sexual breach on Saturday. (It can’t have been a fun holiday weekend for their crisis crew.) “We certainly did not intend or expect the sharing of intimate information,” a spokesperson told me by email.
To limit the exposure, the company has currently hidden all activity records on Fitbit.com, no matter what the user’s current privacy settings are. (I can’t see any of my old records, even privately.) Fitbit also contacted Google, Yahoo, and Bing to get the sex stats removed from search engines.
Quite a few journalists, though, grabbed screen shots of the sexy search results, so Fitbit has removed identifying information from all profiles for the time being.
And the company learned the most important lesson of all from this experience: “We have also updated our default settings for new users for activity sharing to ‘private.’”
Out of a desire to have a successful “social strategy,” too many companies are choosing to publicize their users’ information as much as possible. This Fitbit privacy #fail illustrates once again the pitfalls of that strategy, when users naturally assume that if you give them the option to track their bedroom activity that you would only give them the option to do that privately.
Alternatively, it’s possible these users were digital exhibitionists. Fitbit leaves that option open in its statement about this. “For many people, sharing information is an important motivator for them to achieve their fitness goals,” writes co-founder James Park in a blog post. Perhaps this was a fitness fetish for some?
As I’ve written before, I’m very excited about the benefits of self-tracking, but there are privacy downsides. The more data you gather about yourself, the more data that can be inadvertently exposed. And that can be quite embarrassing, especially if you’re having a dry spell.
Interesting story about the fitbit and how some of their users' sexual activity wearing the fitbit just got exposed. My question here is: why would anyone wear their fitbit during sex? And is that better or worse than checking in while doing it (http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6415974/foursquare-for-sex)?