I made three New Year’s resolutions for 2020. The first is a perennial: eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer treats. (It’s already not looking good.) The second and third are intertwined: walk more, and stop using the car for short trips. I’m happy to report that three weeks into the New Year, these two resolutions are on their way to becoming habits. Ambient exercise, the kind you get by walking to the train station or leaving the car in the driveway while you walk or ride a bike to do errands, is a win-win: good for your health, good for the planet’s health.

I keep track of my walking by using two devices: a Suunto Spartan Ultra watch and its companion app, and another app called Pacer. Because my phone is usually — but not always — in my pocket, I tend to rely more on the Spartan because I always wear my watch; Pacer is a reliable backup. The Spartan uses Bluetooth to upload my data to the app, which has a beautiful and easy to use interface that shows me miles covered, calories burned, even routes taken.

All of which I thought was really cool and useful — until I started being served ads in web-based applications for stores along the route of my daily walks. The less-paranoid part of me thinks it’s actually convenient to know I can buy baguettes, fancy underwear, wine and shoes along the way, but the stronger, more-paranoid part of me wonders what else they know about me. And does it matter that Suunto and Pacer know that for some weird reason I tend to take a ton of my steps 187 feet above sea level on Seventh Avenue between 25th and 26th streets, where MM&M’s offices are located, or that I tend to go into a coffee shop on 29th street and just stand there?  

If I took the time to read the terms and conditions of all the apps on my phone, I know I’d discover that I’d consented to letting all of my information — my data — be shared. But where I walk and drink coffee isn’t all that important. The fact is that Pacer is free. And if I want to know how far I’ve walked, that seems like a pretty fair trade. Privacy only goes so far. 

Now let’s talk about facial recognition…