Health Care Act

Cool or creepy, new iPhone tracks my every step

Originally published Jan. 29, 2015.

I was psyched to see that my new iPhone 6 came with the Health app. But I was shocked when I opened it and saw that it was already tracking my steps, my daily walking distance and the flights of stairs I had climbed.

What? I didn’t ask my phone to do that. Not only did I not opt in, I couldn’t find a way to opt out.

My first reaction was “How dare Apple tag me like a game warden tracking a bear?” I wondered where all this data was going. The Apple folks say it’s stored only on my phone, but after the disclosure that shared personal details after promising not to, I had to wonder. I learned that short of ditching my new phone I can’t block the monitoring, though I can tell my phone not to put the information on my dashboard.

I haven’t done that. In fact, my next thought was “How do I get credit for all the steps I take when my phone is sitting in my purse? Should I buy more pants with pockets?”

I’m sure I'm not the only one who views the explosion of physical data tracking with a mix of trepidation and fascination. I grew up reading "1984" when it was actually set in the future. I recently watched the excellent "Black Mirror" Netflix series, which is enough to give anyone the shivers about where our technology is taking us. Part of me wants to tell my phone to mind its own business.

But I'm as fascinated by numbers and competition as the next American. I remember reading David Sedaris' New Yorker essay on "Living the Fitbit life" and suspecting that if I ever succumbed, I'd be like him: "To people like Dawn and me, people who are obsessive to begin with, the Fitbit is a digital trainer, perpetually egging us on. During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I’d go out for another three thousand."

I resisted when my brother bought a Garmin Vivofit and lost more than 30 pounds. I poked fun at colleague Andrew Dunn when he got a device for Christmas and put out a query for Fitbit friends to share data with.

But now that this stuff is on my phone, I've found myself testing whether the technology can tell whether I'm striding up the Observer's escalators or riding passively (it can). When I walked to the WFAE studio to talk about health care costs on Wednesday, I was secretly pleased that my phone was logging those blocks.

So now I'm at 5,770 steps for the day, with 11 flights of stairs.

It's a personal best in my short career as an iPhone 6 owner But it's well below my brother's rate, not to mention David Sedaris'.

Dang it.