Jawbone's earthquake chart: A good reminder about wearables and privacy

While many people thought that was a cool use of fitness data, some people expressed privacy concerns.

This morning, Jawbone posted a dramatic graph showing how its users across the Bay area woke up last night during the earthquake. The graph plots users by location, indicating how people who lived closer to the epicenter were really likely to wake up while far fewer did so farther away.

It's a pretty cool example of new ways that data from wearables might be useful. Perhaps researchers studying earthquakes could figure out a way to use this data in helpful ways.

But not everyone thinks it's quite so cool -- there are definitely hold outs who are worried about what might happen with data collected about them.

Just because you're paranoid

To me, the Jawbone graph feels very innocuous, showing only anonymized data about something of broad interest. I'd say I fall in the middle or possibly toward the conservative end when it comes to data privacy. I turn down most offers from mobile apps that want to use my location data, unless I think it's absolutely necessary, for instance. While I don't have a fitness tracker, if I did have a Jawbone, I wouldn't be concerned about this sleep data graph.

A quick search on Twitter shows most people feel like me but there are definitely a few who feel differently:

"Both interesting and sliiiightly creepy," Rachelle Newbold wrote on Twitter about the Jawbone sleep chart.

"Got any privacy concerns?" wrote Sister Anne.

"Don't worry. You're not sleeping. You're providing a marketing opportunity for Jawbone," wrote David Pell.

"Errr @Jawbone - creepy, much? Wasn't thinking of buying one of your products before. Sure as heck not doing it now," wrote Doug Ellison.

It's probably not surprising that this data visualization pro thinks the chart is very cool:

"LOVE it. How the Napa earthquake affected Bay Area sleepers. https://jawbone.com/blog/napa-earthquake-effect-on-sleep/ ... Awesome work, @Jawbone! cc @mrogati," Anita Lillie wrote.

And this product manager at Google praised it too:

Phenomenal chart from @Jawbone showing % of people awake near Napa earthquake vs. time of day. Thanks @LaurenGoode. https://jawbone.com/blog/napa-earthquake-effect-on-sleep/ ...," wrote Clay Bavor.

It's still early days in the collection of this kind of personal data. In relative terms, not that many people have fitness trackers. While mobile apps that encroach on user privacy have numbed many people to privacy worries, there are definitely still people who are concerned about the implications around sharing personal data, even in cases like this one where it might be hard to see how the sharing of such anonymized data could cause harm.

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