How to Fake Your Workout

An engineer offers a way to convince your insurance company you’re exercising when you’re really just sitting around.

If you get life insurance through John Hancock—and you happen to be a gym rat—you’re in luck. In April the company started offering discounts and perks to members who agree to wear a FitBit tracker and share their activity levels with plan administrators.

If you are concerned about the privacy of your personal data, however, this sets up somewhat of a dilemma. Do you share your step count and heart rate with a soulless, hackable corporation for 15 percent off your insurance premium and some Amazon gift cards?

The engineers Tega Brain and Surya Mattu have a tongue-in-cheek way around this problem. Enter Unfit Bits, a series of “DIY fitness spoofing techniques to allow you to create walking datasets without actually having to share your personal data.” Now you can play video games and harvest insurance perks, all as your fitness monitor dutifully logs fake calories while strapped to your golden retriever or metronome. The duo purports to have found, for example, that a Jawbone wristband attached to a pendulum for 15 seconds shows that 51 steps have been taken and 4 calories burned. Given that the John Hancock program requires people to do three “verified” workouts per week just to earn a fraction of the points they’d need to net discounts, though, that would mean a lot of time spent twirling a FitBit around a power drill.

The project might seem silly, but it’s a response to a serious concern among some. Insurers Anthem and Premera have both reported hacks this year. People who sign up for the Hancock plan are placing a big bet that their data won’t be misused.

Still, to me, the Hancock plan seems worth it, despite the threat Unfit Bits implies. For me, the insurance discounts seem to pay for the potential risk that hackers might catch a glimpse of my gym record.

For one thing, getting a kickback for going to the gym would make me feel better about participating in the beauty-industrial complex. When the draw of runner’s high can’t overpower the lure of my bed, knowing I’m saving money would be an added incentive.

Second, I feel like insurers already know so much about my medical history that spreadsheets of my jogging schedule would be a drop in the embarrassment bucket in the event of a hack. I can only imagine the conversation between two Russian cyber-hooligans reading my compromised FitBit data:

“Look, Boris, today she crapped out after just 25 minutes on the elliptical. Supposedly the China Gate order came earlier than expected. What a weakling.”

“I know, Vlad. And if she doesn't change up her tricep routine from those same three exercises she tore out of Seventeen magazine, her arms will never truly be tank-top ready.”

In other words, I’m of the we’re-all-equally-screwed school of health-data security. Eventually, knowing that a perfect stranger has access to your pap-smear results will feel like having a profile photo of yourself on the Internet felt in 1998. Why not make Big Brother work for you, in the meantime?

Then again, different people might feel more secretive about their jogging schedules. If you do, and you wish to commit insurance fraud via power drill, now there’s a way.