Pimping your (data)self OR How you sell your (data) soul for a free app

When you sign up for a weigh-watching app or a fitness app, you are giving the app's vender a HUGE amount of information. Is this a good exchange?

Pimping your (data)self OR How you sell your (data) soul for a free app

Health Assessment

Just been for a health assessment. It was an interesting experience for a number of reasons, so I'll probably do a separate entry on it, but I came away with two goals.

  1. Cut done on the amount caffeine I'm consuming.
  2. Lose weight.

The first was a surprise as I don't drink much coffee. If I drink any at all it's limited to one cup a day. I do have a weakness for Vanilla Lattes, which is one of the finest drinks ever invented. However more than one cup a day makes me buzz a bit too much. However I do drink quite a lot of tea and a certain amount of coke, both of which have caffeine as well - though generally not as much as coffee. That one's quite easy to fix. Cut out the coke, and change some of the tea to decaf tea. I'm trying to limit it to 2 cups of caffeinated tea a day now and use de-caffeinated tea for the other cups.

Edit: 3 days after I published this the BBC had a piece on their website about "Coffee Addiction: Do people consume too much caffeine" - it seems I'm not alone :-)

The second, sadly was not a surprise. I've known for a while that the waist size on the trousers was going up. However it was gently but clearly pointed out that the amount of extra weight I'm carrying constitutes a health risk. Normal Body Mass Index (BMI) should be 18.5-25, mine's currently 35. Ouch! So time to lose some weight.

Losing weight

Contrary to popular belief, losing weight is not difficult and does not require any fancy diets or gizmo's.

If "Number of calories consumed per day" < "Number of calories expended per day", you will lose weight. Fact! In fact you can't not lose weight if you follow that simple rule.

How you achieve that happy state of affairs is, of course, the interesting part.

Counting calories

I do it by counting calories. You just very carefully monitor everything you eat and drink, and make sure you stay under a daily limit. I've done it before now and it's been very successful - until I put the weight back on of course (but that's another lifestyle issue).

Previously I used an app from Vidaone on my (then) Windows phone. They had ported this to the iPhone, but it's since disappeared from the UK AppStore which makes me think it's not being supported anymore. It is available in the US store apparently so I could be wrong about this. But anyway it's not available for me to use in the UK.

A bit of a digging suggested that www.myfitnesspal.com offered an iPhone/iPad app that did much the same thing with some nice extra's like automatic linking to the weight info from my Withings scales. Nifty things, Withing scales. They weight you, calculate your BMI and Fat percentage and then upload it to the internet automatically but privately using Wi-Fi. You just access the results by browser or iPhone or Android at your connivence.

And MyFitnessPal is free.

The cynic in me immediately says why is it free? The answer is of course DATA. In return for providing you with a place to store you meals/weights etc, hosting a very big database of food calorific values, and making it incredibly easy for you to enter what you eat into your food diary (the barcode scanning works very well), they get incredibly detailed info on your eating habits, exercise habits and how it is affecting your weight. This is a goldmine for the food industry and others, and I mean do mean GOLDMINE.

Once you realise this you just have to ask yourself, am I willing to trade this information for what is actually a very good app. Hence the title, pimping your (data)self. In this case, for me, I think it is.

This is just one of many examples on what is happening in our modern life with the data in our lives. Companies are now willing to trade, what are actually really good services, not for money but for data.

You just need to make sure that what you are getting back in return is worth it from your perspective.

Final Warning

Do not assume they will be looking at this data in isolation - if these guys have any kind of intelligence they will be taking this data and combining it with all the other data that is out on the net and wringing every drop of info they can out of it.

You have told they where you live - they could start combining this with the locations of all the fast food outlets in the world. Is there a correlation between that and overweight people? What would health insurance companies or governments pay for that kind of info?

Big Data / Data Science crops up in the damnedest places doesn't it :-)