Olympic athletes sell their digital souls for peanuts

Athletes give physical data to tech companies in return for free gadgets.

In an age where Olympic athletes can make enough to retire on simply by wearing a branded t-shirt for half an hour, and an age where personal data is sufficient currency to prop up enterprises like Facebook, you would not expect Olympic athletes to be giving away their personal data for free.

But that's what is happening. According to the Financial Times (£), athletes are giving up their physical data "in exchange for the latest gadgets that record sleep, diet and exercise patterns."

The companies that make the gadgets then get to use the data both to improve and market their devices. Here's the FT:

“Olympic athletes are on the leading edge of performance. You can expect perfect compliance, which leads to perfect data,” said Ben Rubin, chief executive of Zeo, the sleep tracking device. “We seek to understand their sleep first, then trickle those findings down to everyday athletes and ordinary folks.”

It's easy to see what the companies are getting out of it. But what about the Olympians? It's not as if they are donating this information to particularly valuable social enterprise. Most of these health tech companies seem to be touting little more than weight-loss devices. Those must be some shiny, shiny gadgets.

Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.