Your Fitbit or Apple Watch may soon be telling your life insurance company all about you
By Matt Smith
The American life insurance firm John Hancock recently announced that beginning in 2019 its policies will incorporate fitness-tracking data from wearable devices such as the Fitbit and the Apple Watch. Rather than underwriting traditional life insurance policies, the company is moving to what’s called “interactive insurance”—premiums are calculated based on health data provided to the company by its customers using fitness-tracking apps. Customers won’t be required to provide the data, but they’ll be rewarded for doing so, as healthy habits earn them lower life insurance costs, as well as bonus gift cards from various retailers.
John Hancock is owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial Corp., so interactive insurance is likely to be introduced in Canada in the not-too-distant future.
This may sound like a fantastic idea—meet your exercise targets and you’ll get fit, stay fit, and pay less for insurance—but some have raised concerns. Among these is privacy—interactive insurance allows the insurer unfettered access to information such as your whereabouts. Currently, John Hancock customers can opt out of sharing their fitness data, but doing so comes at the cost of being ineligible for discounts.
An even greater issue arises from the effectiveness of the technology itself. The fitness-tracking devices currently on the market are designed for personal use—not rigorous medical testing. They’re designed to help you enjoy a more active lifestyle, but they’re not without their flaws as the technology is still relatively new. An FAQ section on the Fitbit website details the various limitations of their devices, which are designed to monitor running and walking exercises, and therefore may not accurately represent other physical activities such as cycling.
Older adults are especially at-risk for being affected by these reporting inaccuracies, as their workout habits are often less intensive than those of younger generations. These inaccuracies can be annoying when you’re trying to track your own fitness progress, but they can create real problems when your insurance premiums are on the line.