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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.

In fact, Consumer Reports highlights the mission statement of the company.  HVF is the maker of Glow:

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.


1 a { 08.07.16 at 11:12 am }

I am cautious about anything that tracks data. Whether it’s an app or a Fitbit or the xBox360, if it uploads the information, someone will find a way to exploit or misuse it. Hell, I even hate the data they collect at work, because stats don’t tell the full story. Can they tell from my lack of productivity that it takes 5 full MINUTES for my computer to start and 5 minutes for it to shut down and sometimes I have to reboot 3 or four times? That’s an hour where I literally cannot do any work.

Anyway, data collection: I do not like it.

2 Cristy { 08.07.16 at 1:36 pm }

A few months ago, I was riding the train in with an engineer who was all about wearable tech and gathering health data. He saw only the positive, which was gathering medical information about your blood pressure or glucose levels in order to help guide physicians. But as soon as he mentioned linking it to apps, another person jumped in and began questioning who would be buying the data. After all, HIPPA prevents medical professionals from sharing that information without informed consent and apps hit a grey area as even though the users signed a consent form, most were not informed. Made for an interesting 30 min train ride as most of the car had an opinion.

I think you’re absolutely right about free apps. But I’m wary of anything that gathers data. User protection is far from the first things most of these creators are thinking about and the data that is gathered can be used against a person. Sadly, I don’t think most think about this until it’s too late. There’s an assumption of “not me.”

3 Persnickety { 08.07.16 at 7:02 pm }

I use Glow (and briefly the linked pregnancy app nurture). They do have a premium option for which you can pay. Part of the reason has been that I had a terrible experience with fertility friend and a couple of the other tracker options out there.
I am terrible (really) at temping and charting, so I mostly use it to track when my period is likely to happen and when my fertile days are likely to be. It sends me lots of reminders to update, but I use it mostly to track around my period. And really, the information that I drink wine when I get my period- not a surprise.
I use FB sparingly, i refuse to do the ancestry genetic checks and the supermarket bonus cards, so I guess this is my main contribution to big data.
Maybe it’s perspective? One of my childhood friends has made a living out of mining his data and producing interesting reports.

4 Beth { 08.07.16 at 7:06 pm }

I like your explanation about paying with data rather than money. Really smart.

I started The Circle. Seeing so many connections to this. Ick. I can’t think about it too much.

5 Middle Girl { 08.07.16 at 8:32 pm }

Costs. Data Mining. Yes. Limiting shat one shares absolutely necessary.

6 Mali { 08.08.16 at 12:36 am }

This does seem creepy. I would prefer to pay for things that I can then download and control where the data is kept. Yes, I know I’m old. Sigh!

7 Jess { 08.08.16 at 9:06 pm }

That sounds really creepy. I haven’t started The Circle yet but was told by the person who recommended it to me that I might reconsider my FitBit afterwards, which is about the only tracking thing I use. I don’t know how it will help someone else’s marketing to know that I typically get the least amount of sleep on Tuesday nights, but I’m sure that’s out there somewhere. I definitely believe that you pay for Facebook, as you said, through all that data. A wealth of data up there…

8 Jess { 08.08.16 at 9:08 pm }

Also, I never do quizzes on facebook because I’m convinced they are solely for mining. I don’t think you’re really going to find out what kind of wife you are or what your spirit animal is, you’re just going to provide someone with all kinds of useful information for hacking…. Maybe they are innocent but I doubt it.

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