The Quantified Self… and Advertisers?

The Quantified Self[1] is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning[2] are “self-tracking”, "auto-analytics", “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot on WIRED and FastCompany about “The Quantified Self”. We first saw its upsurgence with the Nike FuelBand, which was then proceeded by wearable tech like the Jawbone Up, or the Fitbit Flex.

When the FitbitFlex came out and was available to consumers I immediately reserved one at Best Buy. I was psyched. As a runner, I would routinely track my runs through Nike+ Running (and still do). I loved being able to see the distance I was running, MPH, my average speed, calories burned, etc. For me, Fitbit Flex would provide another source of data that I could use to monitor how active I was – and where and how I could improve. I wore it every day for a year (until I developed a gross rash on my arm due to wearing it in the pool and thus creating a chlorine rash… TMI, whatever) and became hyperaware of whether or not I walked/ran/elipitical-ed my 5miles a day, and how much sleep I was getting. It borderlined obsessive, but in a good way, you know? Because youre trying to stay fit. NOTE: I have concluded that wearable tech like FitbitFlex, NikeFuel band etc. are for those who aren’t already fit. Because if you exercise on a regular basis, are decently active (say, taking the stairs two flights instead of the elevator), then what is there to monitor? How great you’re already doing? Just my take on it. 

Google glass, and all of its competitors, and wearable tech in general is fantastic, I think. It’s actually really fascinating. For instance, this one woman, a data scientist, has her her heartbeat, blood pumping rate, all on display online for the world to see. Its fascinating and interesting in that she’s doing so to learn more about herself. With this information she is able to glean how many days she has left to live (apx. 16,438 days, compared to the 13,000ish she has already lived), her habits and her emotions. She likens it to companies and corporations data mining by tracking our spending habits and clicks to better market to us.

And that’s right about where I start to get concerned.

Sure, it’s all fun and games collecting data on yourself to monitor your mood swings, weight changes, activity levels, body temperature. It’d be an easier way for us to know when to expect an anxiety attack, nervous breakdown, or even an alcohol binge. I for one, would like to be able to predict that at least.

But here is where the problem begins: What happens when advertisers want in to the Quantified Self?

Inevitably they will… and inevitably they will find a way to hack it (because they’re advertisers and they always do). We’re already seeing it, as Google has already essentially patented “pay-per-gaze” technology for its Glass… basically charging advertisers when a user literally views their images. In essence allowing real-world/real-time impressions. So add your body metrics and stats to that advert scheme and where are you? Advertisers can pinpoint what you see, and exactly what youre feeling, doing, eating, smelling, thinking about (essentially).

Your body metrics conclude that youre feeling particularly anxious, depressed even – funnily enough you start seeing adverts for Ben & Jerrys, Netflix, Shopping websites. Perhaps your statistics show youre lacking sleep… lo and behold, RedBull, 5 Hour Energy ads begin to proliferate your TV. It already happens when you click certain things on the Internet and your personal information is collected.
Now it is possible for advertisers to reach you simply because of your goddamned Quantified Self.


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