The Dark Side Of Free Gum

Corporations want to use your health data for better marketing, and they're offering goodies so you'll give it to them.

Quantifying your daily exercise via wearable devices like the Fitbit band might be a decent way to get in shape -- but now it's also your pathway to free gum.

Trident announced Wednesday a new promotion called C.H.E.W. ("Change Health Every Week"), which lets individuals using compatible fitness trackers share their data and receive an offer for free gum when they reach 10,000 steps. The offer is only good at "Kum & Go" convenience stores, which you'll mostly find in the Midwest.

If the specifics of this promotion seem a little silly to you, consider the broader implications. This isn't really about people getting free gum: It's about people like you turning personal health data over to companies to help them sell stuff.

For Trident's promotion, the fitness data is handled by Strap, a company that specializes in digesting this kind of information for marketers. Think of it this way: A bunch of people sign up for the service, turn their data over -- really just a series of numbers based on how much they move and when -- and then Strap breaks it down for advertisers using special algorithms.

"What Trident is able to see is the data of all of the consumers who have opted in to share their data. They'll know sleeping patterns and activity patterns and all of these types of things," Sophie Turcotte, Strap's communications director, told The Huffington Post.

Turcotte explained that the data they work with is "anonymized," meaning it's linked to unique user ID numbers rather than names. Still, Trident might be getting useful data that helps them market more effectively. Their partner for the promotion, Kum & Go, could also take advantage of a customer's fitness data.

For example, Turcotte explained that if a customer has opted to share their fitness data with the convenience chain, the company will be able to see how much that person is sleeping. Most fitness trackers aren't just for encouraging you to walk more: They track things like sleep to make sure you're resting enough.

If a customer isn't getting a lot of shuteye, Kum & Go can serve them a coupon for coffee. This data could also help the chain understand when to deliver promotional materials via email, for example.

"[Kum & Go] could personalize [its] email marketing scheduling based on an individual’s sleeping patterns and send emails out individually to users 10 minutes before they wake up," Turcotte explained in an email.

This is all pretty innocent for now. Maybe free gum is a solid incentive to get people moving more. Maybe getting coffee coupons at the optimal time of day can help you live a more efficient life.

Maybe also this is the first step toward something more nefarious. Imagine the automated shop of the future that jacks up prices for bottled water if it knows that you've just finished a five-mile run.

(You might think this sounds nuts until you read Jaron Lanier's book Who Owns The Future? Check out the "Back to the Beach" excerpt here and see if you can get to sleep tonight.)

Of course, there's no reason to be paranoid: The promotion for free gum is entirely opt-in. If you're interested, you can read more about it here.

This article has been updated to clarify that Strap handles anonymized user data.