Q&A: You Should Get Paid for Your Biometric Data, Says Leslie Saxon

Big companies could share revenue from the data you upload through fitness trackers and health apps

2 min read
Illustration of Leslie Saxon.
Illustration: Jacob Thomas

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illustration of Leslie Saxon Illustration: Jacob Thomas

In exchange for free services, online consumers have gotten used to giving up personal information, such as what they google and what they write in e-mails. Should that same model apply to the biometric data collected by fitness trackers and apps? Leslie Saxon, executive director and founder of the Center for Body Computing at the University of Southern California, says there’s value in all those heartbeats and step counts and thinks consumers should profit from it.

IEEE Spectrum: Are people already inured to giving up biometric data in exchange for a service?

Leslie Saxon: No, I think there will be a backlash as people realize they’re being exploited for their data. It’s a bad back-end model: Your data is sold five ways to Tuesday. There should be ways to get revenue out of biometric data streams that benefit the people who are providing it.

Who would buy this biometric data?

The life insurance company John Hancock just announced that it will provide Fitbits to its customers: If you use your Fitbit, you get a discount. Or imagine a teenage driver: If you use a Breathalyzer on your iPhone, you could get a discount on your car insurance. And a discount is the same as being paid. It’s money in your pocket.

Will some individuals have particularly valuable data?

Because I do a lot of work with elite athletes, I have thought about this as a way to extend their brands. The same way a TV broadcast can show their speed on the field, it could also show their biometrics. Fantasy football is almost as big as real football; imagine having this additional data to help with your fantasy team. It’s another insight. Or what if you were able to compare your data with theirs? People often continue to follow elite athletes of their era, so this could potentially be a revenue stream for athletes long after they retire. That could be more positive than selling a shoe brand to people who can’t afford it.

This article originally appeared in print as “Should You Get Paid for Your Data?”

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