The Apple Watch hasn’t exactly been the breakout hit that Apple hoped it would be. Increasingly, though, Apple has been turning its attention to a market where the watch could still hit it big: insurers.
Image: Alex Cranz/ Gizmodo
On Monday, CNBC reported that one of the nation’s largest life insurance providers, John Hancock, has partnered with Apple to offer members of its Vitality program an Apple Watch for the cost of a $US25 ($32) activation fee. The Vitality program is designed to offer perks to policyholders who live healthy lifestyles. The Apple Watch is now one of those perks — as well as one of the way insurers hope policyholders will be encouraged to live healthfully.
This is kind of creepy for a few reasons. Knowing your personal activity stats could encourage you to stay healthy (though some research has questioned this). But basing benefits on physical activity could inadvertently penalise people who have less time to make it to the gym, like lower-income people or new mums (and participants may wind up having to pay more than the $US25 ($32) for their watch if they do not meet certain goals). Not to mention that, while you may not realise it, information like how many steps you have taken in a day can wind up being abused or used against you in the wrong hands.
Court cases now regularly include evidence gleaned from fitness trackers. In 2014, in a first-of-its-kind case, a Canadian law firm used Fitbit history to assist in proving a client’s personal injury claim. And in 2015, data from a Fitbit was used to undermine a woman’s rape claim. Just this year, a man’s pacemaker put him in prison for arson. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for John Hancock did not respond to a request for specific details on how much policyholder data it would have access to under the program.
It’s a good bet, though, that policyholders will be giving up some amount of otherwise private information collected by that watch.
Google, Apple, and other companies are investing heavily in health tech, hoping that devices like the Apple Watch will not only allow us to track data about our own bodies, but share it with people like doctors. In September, the FDA announced that Apple, Fitbit, Google, and others would all join a pilot program designed to speed the development of such technology.
Privacy watchdogs, though, have already raised red flags about health tracking, casting it as “medical surveillance.” John Hancock may be giving away an Apple Watch for cheap, but it’s possible its policy holders will be giving away a lot more that that.