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Quantified Self Report Cards 2017-2019:
User Rights in the Age of Biometric Tracking

Since the rapid rise of computer and information technology, the privacy and security of user data has been a concern for many. With the mass societal adoption of the Internet, major companies and even governments now have access to accumulative databases of all-encompassing user information aggregated over long periods of time. International regulator organizations and activist nonprofits have proposed various frameworks to ensure that such databases are protected, rather than exploited. When we choose to use these advanced and increasingly ubiquitous devices and services, we “opt in” to a new reality of constant monitoring which provides more complete “pictures” of our daily lives than we ever imagined possible. However, the companies which provide such devices and services often make it difficult for users to decide, or even understand, how their data is being collected and utilized. Thus, we must quickly move to supplement the existing efforts of user rights watchdog organizations with a critical eye toward these new forms of data tracking and collection.

The Human Data Commons Foundation believes a new understanding of user rights in the Quantified Self field must start with an investigation of the user experience itself. A great deal of active research is underway to analyze the content of privacy policies with machine learning technology, and legal and academic scholars are making consistent progress in establishing ethical norms for industry best practices. However, these approaches must be supplemented by a focus on the navigability of the website and application interfaces “at first glance.” The average user cannot make choices about the privacy and security practices of a company if they can’t find or understand its documentation. Thus, we have undertaken a preliminary qualitative assessment of the perceived transparency and accessibility of such information in Quantified Self-companies’ user-facing websites.

Press Release

Makers of smart watches and fitness trackers must do more to protect user privacy: Human Data Commons report

VANCOUVER (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories) — December 10, 2019

The makers of smart watches and fitness trackers are not doing enough to protect their users’ privacy, according to a new report released by the Human Data Commons Foundation.

The 2019 Quantified Self Report Card reviewed the terms and privacy policies of 18 leading manufacturers of smart watches and fitness trackers. The Report Card graded companies on legal rights, data collection and sharing, data access, and security. It gives consumers information about which companies respect their privacy and legal rights and encourages companies to make better choices for their users.

The Report Card highlights the surprising ways companies use data collected about people using fitness trackers and smart watches. It found many companies create marketing profiles of users by combining fitness data with information from social media and other sources. Some partnered with insurance companies to share fitness data. It found companies will share information with police in criminal investigations.

“Smart watches and fitness trackers are popular holiday gifts. There are many review sites comparing features and what it’s like to use the fitness trackers and smart watches these companies make,” said Greg McMullen, co-author of the report. “We think it’s just as important to look at how the companies use your data.”

The Report Card ranked Apple in first place. “Apple is trying to make privacy a competitive advantage, and that’s good for their users,” said McMullen. However, he warned that making privacy a product comes with its own risks: “Privacy should not be a luxury. Privacy is a human right.”

Suunto and TomTom tied for second in the Report Card, followed by Xiaomi, Huawei, and Withings. Fitbit and Google’s Wear OS platform placed in the middle of the pack. Samsung and Moov finished at the bottom of the class. Both companies have aggressive data collection and sharing practices, and terms that limit users’ rights.

The 2019 Report Card is the third annual report from the Human Data Commons Foundation, a Vancouver not-for-profit that aims to inspire the tech sector and empower citizens to build a more equitable and sustainable digital future for all.


Book Chapter: Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self Tracking Practices

HDC contributed a chapter in this 2018 publication that examines what is meant by “metric culture” and takes a critical look at the many ways practices of self-tracking and quantification that have emerged in almost every sphere of life.

A Quantified Self Report Card: Ethical Considerations of Privacy as Commodity
Chelsea Palmer, Rochelle Fairfield
Publication date: 24 September 2018


In June 2017, The Human Data Commons Foundation released its first annual Quantified Self Report Card. This project consisted of a qualitative review of the privacy policy documentation of 55 private sector companies in the self-tracking and biometric data industry. Two researchers recorded their ratings on concrete criteria for each company’s website, as well as providing a blend of objective and subjective ratings on the overall ease of readability and navigability within each site’s documentation. This chapter explains the unique context of user privacy rights within the Quantified Self tracking industry, and summarises the overall results from the 2017 Quantified Self Report Card. The tension between user privacy and data sharing in commercial data-collection practices is explored and the authors provide insight into possibilities for resolving these tensions. The self-as-instrument in research is touched on in autoethnographic narrative confronting and interrogating the difficult process of immersive qualitative analytics in relation to such intensely complex and personal issues as privacy and ubiquitous dataveillance. Drawing upon excerpted reflections from the Report Card’s co-author, a few concluding thoughts are shared on freedom and choice. Finally, goals for next year’s Quantified Self Report Card are revealed, and a call extended for public participation.