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23 July 2012

Olympic athletes sell their digital souls for peanuts

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

By Martha Gill

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.

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