Gamify your Health – Running from Surveillance

2013 Mother's Day Run and Walk by Sangudo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
2013 Mother’s Day Run and Walk by Sangudo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/

Fitness trackers are everywhere now; or about ‘1 in 5’ (Werner 2016). The little little blinky light things that have invaded people’s wrists and forced their ways into the lives of many. They have become a mark of the active class; a society of people determined to let others know that – I am healthy!

Like them or not, (and I love mine!) they are here to stay:

Incentive-based apps and websites are a growing segment of the overall health gaming market, estimated at $1.2 billion. (Shah 2013)

All fitness trackers, will count steps as a basic pedometer, but some include GPS and Bluetooth connectivity (compare Fitbit). They can link with your phone and give an unprecedented amount of information about where you have been and what you have been doing. This information can be published on the internet, sometimes without the expressed permission. When Fitbit was first launched users accounts were set to publish by default (this has changed now #lessonlearnt) and many users were not aware that this was happening (Matyszczyk 2011); resulting in some interesting – or appalling – information being made available. Even though the accounts were published without names it may be possible with some savvy searching to match the details with an actual person!

Even with the total ability to keep the information generated by this technology private, just about everyone has a few friends that share everything that it generates, Fusco describes the sharing of these events on social media platforms as:

In these spaces, institutionalized and individual practices work together to fabricate spaces that represent the healthy athletic body and a set of individuals who are deeply invested, for the most part, in reproducing themselves as executors of health. (Fusco 2006, n.p.)

Nokia Lumia 920 - Caledos Runner by N i c o l a (CC BY 2.0)
Nokia Lumia 920 – Caledos Runner by N i c o l a (CC BY 2.0)

So we can see that, through that act of sharing a person can be seen in the light that they wish to be known; this is the general basis for the self-moderated social media platform; we share the best bits and dump the junk. This is where social media can be a powerful tool, it has the capacity to incite behaviors from others, some times good and sometimes bad. Arroyo and Brunner examined the effects of seeing fitness tracker activity posts in social media and their findings were that:

…individuals who reported seeing more of their friends’ fitness posts on [Social Network Services] reported engaging in higher levels of healthy behaviors, however they also reported making higher levels of self-disparaging comments and being highly dissatisfied with their bodies as well. (Arroyo and Brunner 2016, p.244)

From this we can note that the sharing of information creates a certain image of that person, although it does create negative thoughts in the mind of the viewer. But how does all of this relate in real life? We see trackers on people wrists daily, and even if they are not actually doing anything is the fact that we have seen the posts of others and the fact that we know what they do enough to make us think better of that person? Is it just another piece of the active wear puzzle?

Ha. No, it is time for bed not time for a walk, Fitbit. by RK Bentley (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Ha. No, it is time for bed not time for a walk, Fitbit. by RK Bentley (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Another way to look at the act of sharing fitness tracking data, is gamification. The ability to share and compare creates competition. The sharing of data (scores) and the winning of workout goals is just about the most motivation people need to use the technology – after all what is stopping a person for just going for a walk; the fitness tracker adds the elements of a game and as such the desire to compete with others.

Is it possible that instead of just being influenced and feeling like a lesser person for not working out, that we just feel left out of the competition? Could the fitness tracker and all of its associated web sites just have become the virtual locker room?

The locker room is, spatially and discursively, a modern and disciplined space, which is imbued with discourses of power. (Fusco 2006 n.p.)

Like most things it is all in the interpretation. When looking at the fitness data generated by another, we can feel guilt, jealousy, admiration and envy. But that is the bane of the social environment – and in reality it is not something that has been created by social media; it just enhanced it.

Beyond everything the point to any fit tracker is industry and we are driven to strive for what may be considered the social normality. These companies collect data, perform analysis and possibly sell the information to others so personalised marketing can happen. Recently I purchased (was gifted) a Samsung fitness tracker, and twice in the sign up section I had to avoid ticking the receive marketing check boxes. So is it really about getting fit, or just another way to track and catalog us into marketable beings?


Arroyo, A, & Brunner, S R 2016, ‘Negative body talk as an outcome of friends’ fitness posts on social networking sites: body surveillance and social comparison as potential moderators’, Journal of Applied Communication Research, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 216-235.

Fusco, C 2006, ‘Inscribing healthification: governance, risk, surveillance and the subjects and spaces of fitness and health’, Health and Place, vol. 12, pp. 65-78.

Matyszczyk, C 2011, ‘TMI? Some Fitbit users’ sex stats on Google search’, CBS Interactive, retrieved 8/Sept/2016, <>.

Shah, A 2013, ‘For better health, try turning fitness into a game’, Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Nov 25. <>.

Werner, J 2016, ‘Do fitness trackers really work?’, ABC, retrieved 14/Sept/2016, <>.


Data Filled Cookies – Online Digital Marketing

fortune cookie (365-262) by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)
fortune cookie (365-262) by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)

The minute you go to a website, depending if the website uses them, and look at content a cookie is saved on your computer. Generally, they do nothing – maybe hold a small amount of data that is used to remember who you are. But sometimes they can be used to construct an online image of who you are and what you like to do, and in this case they stop being harmless – depending on your point of view.

In discussing the potential of digital marketing Damien Ryan says that there is:

…an evolution in the way people are using technology. It’s about harnessing the distributed collaborative potential of the internet to connect and communicate with other like-minded people wherever they are: creating communities and sharing knowledge, thoughts, ideas and dreams. (Ryan 2014, p.14)

Sentiment Analysis for C-of-the-ACM by Charis Tsevis (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Sentiment Analysis for C-of-the-ACM by Charis Tsevis (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By this he means people are sorting themselves. They are choosing what they like and selecting things that they like to do. We are putting ourselves into the box, making it easier to sell us items. Online marketing experts do this with the collection of cookies, known as third-party cookies.

In theory, these cookies could be used to track visitor behaviour across multiple websites, building up a picture of user browsing behaviour as they surf the web. (Ryan 2014, p.74)

Searls elaborates by stating that:

Advertisers don’t have to build this capability for themselves: they rely on ad delivery networks that claim they can show relevant ads to people no matter which website they’re visiting. (2016, p.77)

Is this bad though? Is there really an impact besides what advertising we are seeing? Ramlakhan explains:

Third-party cookies are unethical and a breach of privacy because they invade one’s privacy by tracking an individual’s movement on the web, they are not consented for by the computer user nor is the user aware that their every movement on the web is being tracked, and they allow personal and private information to be used for marketing needs and possibly sold to businesses, thus treating an individual as a commodity and exploiting an individual’s personal information. (Ramlakhan 2011, p.60)

Do I feel like my privacy has been invaded when I see a targeted add pop up on Facebook? Not really, it’s more of a joke, that some company is going to pay Facebook money to advertise something to me that I have already found.

I still see ads for this, and I feel bad. I mean I like the ABC shop and perhaps constantly seeing the ads will keep it fresh in my mind. Perhaps it will eventually entice me back to the website and I will inadvertently spend my money where as otherwise it would have been forgotten.

Hang on a minute… Curse you online marketing!! #deletecookies

i like my sister. by Miriam Pittioni (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
i like my sister. by Miriam Pittioni (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Tene makes a really interesting comment in that:

Every day, millions of users provide Google with unfettered access to their interests, needs, desires, fears, pleasures, and intentions. Many users do not realize that this information is logged and maintained in a form which can facilitate their identification. (Tene 2008, p.1435)

Does this mean that Google should be paying us? Are we not doing market research and not being compensated? If people were to be paid for just doing what they normally do, perhaps the data will be skewed and flawed and then not as valuable as it had once been. If we don’t want to be tracked, Google suggests using the incognito mode.

Is it all in our heads? Are the marketing guides so sophisticated that we believe we are being watched? I’m going out on a limb here and, well no. We are being tracked. Companies are sorting us based on not what we like but rather what we are viewing, even if it only for a second or two. Are we really box people instead of a mass amount of individuals? Does anyone like being placed in the marketeers box? Do we care?

I think that for most people advertising has become, the white noise of the internet – it just goes on without being noticed, occasionally something may grasp our interest and we click on it and Facebook gets paid. But then this is how services like Facebook and YouTube are free. Would you pay a monthly subscription to avoid advertising? If the demand out strips the revenue gained from advertising, I’m positive it will happen and then maybe we can browse without being constantly surveilled.

Then again there are other ways of profiling users without checking for cookies – enter the dawn of the geo-location marketing.

Perhaps there is only one way out…


Ryan, D 2014, Understanding digital marketing. [electronic resource]: marketing strategies for engaging the digital generation, London ; Philadelphia : Kogan Page, 2014.

Tene, O 2008, ‘What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines’, Utah Law Review, vol. 2008, no. 4, pp. 1433-1492.

Searls, D 2016, ‘The End of Internet Advertising as We’ve Known It’, MIT Technology Review, vol. 119, no. 1, p. 76.

Ramlakhan, NE 2011, ‘Ethical Implications of Third-party Cookies’, International Journal of the Humanities, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 59-68.