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France’s data protection regulator on Thursday hit Google and Facebook with fines of €150 million ($170 million) and €60 million ($68 million), respectively, for failing to provide internet users an easy way to disable online trackers, marking the latest in a series of fines faced by the two American tech giants for failing to comply with European privacy laws.
In a statement outlining its investigation, French regulator CNIL noted that Facebook, Google and Youtube’s websites offered a button that allowed users to immediately accept cookies but did not provide a similar button to easily refuse them.
The regulator added that the process of refusing the online trackers was several steps longer.
The CNIL ruled that this process affects users’ freedom of consent as it influences their choice of accepting or rejecting cookies.
While cookies can be essential for a website’s functioning—allowing for user authentication and remembering preferences among other things—they can also be used to track a user’s online behavior and serve them advertising.
In addition to the hefty fines, both companies have been ordered to update their interface for French users—making it easier for them to reject cookies—within three months.
Key BackgroundThe fines against Google and Facebook follow a series of similar regulatory actions facing U.S tech giants including Apple and Amazon in Europe. In December 2020, Google and Amazon were hit with similar fines for their handling of web cookies to track user activities without seeking proper consent..
Last year, regulators in France, the U.K., and the EU initiated formal antitrust probes into Google and Facebook’s online advertising business. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which went into effect in May 2018 has dramatically increased the powers of the bloc’s privacy enforcers. Under the law, serious privacy breaches can lead to fines of as much as 4% of a company’s annual global revenue.
I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an
Even the most seasoned and well-adjusted remote workers know the risk: If you’re not careful, working from home can bring your physical activity to a standstill.
Employers know this too. Increasingly, they are looking for ways to bolster their wellness programs by offering fitness trackers, such as those made by Fitbit, Garmin, and Amazon, to help employees log more movement during the day. Another popular option called Oura makes smart rings that can track sleep, fitness, temperature, and even signs of illness. An Oura dashboard even lets employers view the likelihood of illness across their entire workforce.
Employees who log a certain amount of physical activity can then receive insurance discounts through many major health insurance companies, such as UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and Aetna. Beneficiaries can get reimbursed for prescription co-pays and other health care costs under their deductibles.
But fitness trackers in the workplace, and health surveillance in general, also carry considerable privacy risks. More than 60 million records from Fitbit, Apple, and other companies were compromised in June after a data breach on GetHealth, a third-party group that provides employee fitness incentives.
Data breaches of fitness trackers like Strava have revealed personal details such as the name and location of participants, even in anonymized data. Security risks aside, you may not even want to have so many personal details about your employees at your fingertips. After all, constant surveillance won’t exactly put your team at ease.
Before offering fitness trackers to your employees, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Workplace fitness-tracker programs often offer discounts on insurance premiums if employees meet certain fitness goals. Some employees can earn as much as $1,500 a year they can apply toward their health insurance premiums. Workers can get free or discounted wearables, workout clothing, and even gym equipment. On the employer side, a few studies have shown that fitness trackers can help you save money on premiums. But some companies have reported that their insurance costs have remained the same.
At present, there are no laws or regulations in place to stop insurers from using fitness-tracker data to raise premiums. In an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the AMA raised concerns that such data could increase insurance premiums for some groups.
“Wearables can collect information on physical activity, calorie intake, blood pressure, and weight. Insurance companies are now using this data for rewards programs, but there are no regulations stopping them from doing the opposite,” wrote the authors.
Health care providers and health insurers are barred from sharing any patient information by HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. But that ban doesn’t extend to Google, Apple, or any private companies through which employees elect to share their health care data. As The Wall Street Journal reports, there’s nothing under HIPAA that would bar third-party companies from analyzing or selling the health care data users voluntarily give up.
If you’re looking to adopt fitness-tracker programs, read up on the device-maker’s privacy policies and be prepared to answer questions from employees. You will have the added responsibility of explaining to workers how much access your own company has to their data, and how it’s being used. Workers need to understand that you will not be using data from the fitness trackers against them, and are under no obligation to sign up for the program.
For some people, wearing a device that tracks their activity levels is enough of a reason to get off the sofa. But changing health habits permanently requires a lot more effort. One study published in The Lancet from researchers at the Duke-NUS Medical School found that wearing an activity tracker, along with a cash incentive, improved the fitness levels of employees.
But after the cash incentive was discontinued after six months, employees didn’t maintain their previous fitness levels. The study also compared employees who wore fitness trackers with those who did not, and found no real difference in the amount of activity performed.
But a number of other studies indicate that fitness trackers do help increase activity levels, either by small or moderate amounts. In one analysis of 28 studies with more than 7,000 participants published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that those with fitness trackers were more physically active than those in groups without. Added features like setting personal goals and text reminders were the most effective in getting people to exercise.
If your company chooses to enroll in a fitness-tracker program, keep in mind that you’re unlikely to entice all of your employees to adopt it. If you want to help improve the health of workers, you can also try methods like subsidized gym memberships, healthy food choices at work, or reimbursement for fitness equipment. While fitness trackers can certainly play a role in improving health outcomes, they are just one tool. Substantive lifestyle changes, including good nutrition, sleep, and fitness, also are required.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the fitness tracker Strava had a data breach that revealed personal details such as the name and location of participants, including in anonymized data. According to Strava spokesman, the company has never had a data breach.
Böhm, B; Karwiese, SD; Böhm, H; Oberhoffer, R (30 April 2019). “Effects of Mobile Health Including Wearable Activity Trackers to Increase Physical Activity Outcomes Among Healthy Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review”. JMIR mHealth and uHealth. 7 (4): e8298. doi:10.2196/mhealth.8298. PMC 6658241. PMID 31038460.
We know that spending hour after hour sitting down isn’t good for us, but just how much exercise is needed to counteract the negative health impact of a day at a desk? A 2020 study suggests about 30-40 minutes per day of building up a sweat should do it.
Up to 40 minutes of “moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity” every day is about the right amount to balance out 10 hours of sitting still, the research says – although any amount of exercise or even just standing up helps to some extent.
That’s based on a meta-analysis across nine previous studies, involving a total of 44,370 people in four different countries who were wearing some form of fitness tracker.
The analysis found the risk of death among those with a more sedentary lifestyle went up as time spent engaging in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity went down.
“In active individuals doing about 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, the association between high sedentary time and risk of death is not significantly different from those with low amounts of sedentary time,” the researchers wrote in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) in 2020.
In other words, putting in some reasonably intensive activities – cycling, brisk walking, gardening – can lower your risk of an earlier death right back down to what it would be if you weren’t doing all that sitting around, to the extent that this link can be seen in the amassed data of many thousands of people.
While meta-analyses like this one always require some elaborate dot-joining across separate studies with different volunteers, timescales, and conditions, the benefit of this particular piece of research is that it relied on relatively objective data from wearables – not data self-reported by the participants.
The study was published alongside the release of the World Health Organization 2020 Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior, put together by 40 scientists across six continents. In fact, in November 2020 BJSM put out a special edition to carry both the new study and the new guidelines.
“These guidelines are very timely, given that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, which has confined people indoors for long periods and encouraged an increase in sedentary behavior,” said physical activity and population health researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney in Australia.
“People can still protect their health and offset the harmful effects of physical inactivity,” says Stamatakis, who wasn’t involved in the meta-analysis but is the co-editor of the BJSM. “As these guidelines emphasize, all physical activity counts and any amount of it is better than none.”
The research based on fitness trackers is broadly in line with the new WHO guidelines, which recommend 150-300 mins of moderate intensity or 75-150 mins of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week to counter sedentary behavior.
Walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift, playing with children and pets, taking part in yoga or dancing, doing household chores, walking, and cycling are all put forward as ways in which people can be more active – and if you can’t manage the 30-40 minutes right away, the researchers say, start off small.
Making recommendations across all ages and body types is tricky, though the 40 minute time frame for activity fits in with previous research. As more data are published, we should learn more about how to stay healthy even if we have to spend extended periods of time at a desk.
“Although the new guidelines reflect the best available science, there are still some gaps in our knowledge,” said Stamatakis.
“We are still not clear, for example, where exactly the bar for ‘too much sitting’ is. But this is a fast-paced field of research, and we will hopefully have answers in a few years’ time.”
By: David Nield