Hangups with Keeping Track of the “Quantified Self”

With the increase of mobile technology and applications, we have also witnessed an increase in data tracking and the “quantified self” trend. Put simply, the “quantified self” involves associating metrics with personal tracked information. There are food logs used to track one’s diet, applications that track running/walking activity, and wearable hardware that tracks other physical activities. SiliconANGLE has covered several of these trackers (you can find some of them here, here, and here.) But what, if any, are the downsides to this tracking and self-quantifying trend?

These trackers and apps are all designed with the consumer in mind. They deliver timely data directly related to the consumer about their personal activities. Health and lifestyle improvement are the major drivers behind consumer adoption. People want to be able to collect data about their diet and exercise, track their activity over a given amount of time, and hopefully gain some insights as to how they can adjust their activities to improve their lives. SiliconANGLE’s Senior Managing Editor Kristen Nicole stated in her analysis that the movement towards a more “quantified self” has been able to explore healthcare to a greater extent because of its relevance to the consumer’s life.

“There’s nothing that motivates you more than the fear of death. And when you’re thinking about your health and your fitness, it’s really necessary to be motivated to improve your own behavior,” she said in a recent appearance on NewsDesk.

There’s a limit to the quantified self


What better way to track your behavior than to adopt the tools of the “quantified self”? By looking at these trackers and apps as tools for the consumer, it puts a perspective on the movement that is needed to determine the value of self-quantification. Like any tool, the data that these trackers provide is only as useful as the person using it. With that being the case, there is definitely a limit to the value in the “quantified self”.

A major disadvantage in the “quantified self” trend centers on the lack of cohesiveness between the various collections of data. One columnist tried out multiple trackers to assess how effective they were for him. While each tracker delivered different levels of accuracy and satisfaction to him, in the end it was about what actionable steps he walked away with. He said “that was far more useful to [him] than trend charts.”

That ties well into Nicole’s analysis that the real value is going to come when these various trackers and apps have the ability to communicate with one another. Similar to its roots in Big Data, self-quantification’s metrics and data have to be enriched to deliver true value. Having separate piles of activity and health data about a single user without combining the data to draw meaning and actionable steps from, is just a bunch of piles of data. So the truly “quantified self” must be engaged in their activity tracking and insightful to pull the meaning out of the numbers. As mentioned earlier, these trackers and apps all collect various types of data, but no single device is all inclusive of the various aspects of our health or fitness.

Too much to manage


Given that a single tracker or app can only collect a limited amount of information types it points to another drawback. The aforementioned columnist tried five different trackers simultaneously. Each of these trackers I’m sure had some form of cost, but did not deliver a complete package of desired data. It paints the picture that in order to get the enriched data that a consumer would need to get the best behavioral change suggestions would involve multiple devices and apps.

As mentioned, these devices and apps do not communicate with one another. Some, like the food logs mentioned by the testing columnist, require a lot of management and work on the consumer’s part. One of the main benefits sought in these trackers is their ability to simplify the data collection process. When the management behind the tracker is equivalent to the management without the tracker, the value of the tracker is eliminated. With the numerous tracking options, the newcomer to this movement should be cautious of “over tracking” themselves. If a device or app is providing the needed metric to deliver the desired results, there is no need to add more trackers and data for the sake of having more.

Security remains a concern


The final snag in self-quantification is linked to another familiar aspect of Big Data, the privacy of the data being collected. Many of these trackers and apps capture location data. If the data being collected is not location related, all the data is personal to the consumer. So the question is raised as to how this personal data will be managed. Will the company providing the tracking service be able to share your data with the government or other third parties that may want your data? The amount of people that would have access to a consumer’s personal data would also increase if these trackers and apps have an avenue to communicate with one another. Based on the nature of the data being collected, it is definitely the case that the consumer would want to have knowledge of how their data is being used and/or distributed.

While the “quantified self” has great potential to not only help a consumer with personal health and life improvements, and to help improve healthcare overall, there are surely points of concern. The convenience and ease of use, as well as the security of the collected data, are areas that consumers need to take note of when it comes to adding a metric to their everyday lives.

photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc