More Than You Bargained For
I was squicked out this week by the Daily Beast article about Glow, a fertility tracking app that had a few creepy features and security loopholes. Glow has addressed the problems that Consumer Reports found in their study, but at its core there is a really uncomfortable question: Is Glow for the user or are the users for Glow?
I ask because the data being collected by the app is really important to the user. Knowing your cycle is vital if you’re trying to get pregnant without assistance, and, frankly, I kept charting my cycles even when my cycles were being controlled by the RE. It’s important to know the first day of your cycle, the length of your cycle, ovulation window… even if you’re not family building. And if you are, well, again, vital.
But this is what I know: Glow is a free app. And we always tell our kids that if they’re not paying for an app with money, they’re paying for an app with data. For instance, my data and content and attention is what I’m paying in order to use Facebook. It’s not free; it’s just not charging money. And the same goes for Glow. If you’re not paying money to use Glow, then you are paying with something else. And that something is the data you are uploading to the app; data that helps you, but data which also becomes an asset to the company.
Data is becoming our most plentiful, and most under-exploited commodity. The insights mined from it will unlock enormous productivity gains, create efficiencies where none existed before, and meaningfully improve lives … We are interested in consumer finance, enterprise document security, and disease prevention/wellness industries. But if it’s got data, we want to think about it.
So our own data IS our most under-exploited commodity; meaning, we don’t know enough about ourselves, and we don’t value all the information we can mine from ourselves by paying attention.
But doesn’t it sound like… Glow is paying attention to the value THEY can get from data? Because they are sitting on a lot of information: Women’s sex habits, medications taken, amount of exercise, alcohol consumed. Don’t you think a lot of companies would like to know that sort of information so they can market to them? Data is a valuable asset for any company, and this is a company that is making data its only asset.
The Daily Beast writes,
Glow is an app by men, primarily for women. One woman sits on the company’s six-person executive team. The app is the brainchild of former PayPal CEO Max Levchin. If his career pivot from money-transfer mogul to professional period-planner seems a strange one, consider Glow the way Levchin does: as part of a broader network of data collection companies.
Which is a far-cry from Fertility Friend’s business model, which charges for the service so they don’t have to make their money selling your data. I am taking them at their word, though I would exercise caution in uploading data to any site. I’m a big fan of paper and pens.
And this post is not to single out Glow. I am wary of any free app that has you enter in a lot of information about yourself, including ones I use like My Fitness Pal. I hand over so much information in order to see my patterns. It helps me, but it clearly also has to be helping them or they wouldn’t be able to give me the app for free.
It’s an interesting fact to note in this day and age of health tracking. Jotting down what we eat, how much we sleep, how far we walk, or the date of period: It all comes at a cost.