John Hancock's healthy behavior data collection concerns privacy advocates

Life insurance provider John Hancock announced earlier this week its Vitality Program, a program that assigns points to beneficiaries who engage in healthy activities, which they can later redeem for reduced premiums.

Members who sign up for the program receive a free Fitbit wearable, which automatically uploads activity levels and related data to the insurer. The more actively engaged a person is — including healthy activities like undergoing health exams and screenings and not smoking — the more points he or she earns. Members can use those points to reduce policy premiums or earn other rewards, such as discounts on travel, entertainment, shopping and fitness.

John Hancock and Vitality, an organization that integrates wellness rewards with life insurance products, have said any data and information will only be shared with entities involved with administering the program. They said that while it will not be sold, the aggregate data could help guide the development of new insurance products, according to a New York Times report.

However, some experts have expressed concern regarding the privacy of health data in such a program.

"All of a sudden, everything you do and everything you eat, depending on which bits of the information they collect, is sitting in someone's database," said Anna Slomovic, lead research scientist at the Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute at George Washington University in Washington D.C., in the NYT report.

Additionally, the scope of data that could potentially be collected in the future is unclear, according to an NPR report. Scott Peppet, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, studies tracking technology and said that while fitness trackers now log basic information like steps and sleep patterns, later versions may track heart rates and dietary habits. "Lots and lots of different kinds of data are suddenly being gobbled up and can be collected about us," he said in the report.

More articles on data security:

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