6 Ways to Avoid the Exploding, Privacy Killing Toothbrush

By Lee Bellinger / December 26, 2013

It’s Not Just Privacy vs. Security
It’s Privacy vs. Convenience Too

We’re not kidding about the exploding toothbrush that takes some of your privacy. This represents a very real, practical choice we all must make.

We’ll show you six key guidelines to make yourself less interesting to others.

Recently an unusual coalition of libertarians and leftists in Congress won what many regard as a significant vote which suggests a growing consensus to restrict informational fishing expeditions by government. Specifically, surprisingly deep bipartisan support to limit NSA domestic spying activities away from broad domestic surveillance to more specific national security threats.
Woman brushing teeth

It’s hopefully the start of a needed debate. But there really is a lot more to this story more than the NSA – because the far more insidious thing government does is to tap into broader commercial operations that use sophisticated technology to form a profile of pretty much everyone. The examples of how are endless…most people now have a smartphone with GPS. Maybe your car is Bluetooth enabled. And one day soon, you may even have a toothbrush that captures personal health data every time you use it, plus a built-in transmitter that sends your personal health information to a central databank.

No, we have not taken leave of oursenses. In fact, this device already exists and is on store shelves everywhere. Many are already in homes and reporting personal health data back to headquarters. The spy toothbrush is simple to set up. It’s convenient to use. It will beep when you’ve been brushing for 2 minutes and even “rewards” you by playing music while you brush. It tracks the days length of time you brush. It syncs with your smart phone automatically and charts your brushing. It’s marketed as being great for parents who want to monitor their children’s habits. And best of all the app on your phone will prove to your dentist what a good patient you’ve been.

The rest of the story…

But the heart of this story is that it also gives your personal health information to the manufacturer. You might not be worried about that, until you realize they aren’t interested in toothbrushes. They’re interested in the data your toothbrush gives them.

“People often refer to us as a toothbrush company, but we’re not. We’re actually not interested in toothbrushes at all. We’re interested in health data,” said Alex Frommeyer, co-founder of Beam Technologies, based in Louisville, Ky. “In many ways, [data-tracking] is the entire point”of the Beam Brush.

This health data will help Beam Technologies negotiate deals with insurance companies. If you use the app-enabled toothbrush, you will get a “discount” on your health insurance. In other words, you will pay a penalty if you don’t. And this isn’t the only company to be using tracking devices to get information about how people use products.

The Nike+ FuelBand, the Fitbit calorie and exercise tracking system, and Snapshot from Progressive Insurance all use similar technology. Even Kindle has a new app called Free Time to help parents control and monitor their children’s activities.

Ok, so it may all be benign. For now. But do you think bureaucrats should be allowed to get their hands on this type of technology and begin using it for their own social engineering ends?

Privacy vs. Convenience

The problem is that this digital data can be misused. Consider the infamous story of the dad in Minneapolis who learned his teenage daughter was pregnant because she received diaper coupons from Target. Target’s statisticians figured it out from her previous purchases before her father had any idea.

Imagine how much more intrusive marketing will get as data is collected from actual products.

What you need to plan for is this: We’ve arrived at a time in history when privacy has been thrown out the door. We’re in the era of Big Data. Big Data is all the information gathered about anything. And it’s being used to make decisions in business, marketing, and government.

This giving up of our privacy for the sake of convenience is eroding away at our independence. Consider Verizon giving phone records to the NSA as one example. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about the past. But it’s important to be aware of what’s changing. It’s important to realize that “convenience” frequently means giving up privacy. Awareness means you can make conscious choices.

Some issues to consider:

  1. Always read the privacy policies to see what information is gathered and how the company plans to use this information.

  2. Note if they sell the information or if third parties have access to it.

  3. Note if and how the company keeps your information secure.

  4. Consider how your information could be misused. (Could not brushing your teeth result in higher insurance premiums or a more costly dental visit?)

  5. Weigh the benefits of giving up your privacy with the benefits of the product. (Instead of using an app-enabled toothbrush, set a timer. Record your brushing habits on a piece of paper and give yourself a gold sticker for every perfect brushing week. And, you can even take the paper to the dentist to avoid a lecture.)

  6. Be extra vigilant about your children’s information. Use a nickname and special date in place of their name and birthday.

You may well prefer to take advantage of modern technology. Just know that it increasingly comes with a peek into your life. No wonder so many people are waking up to government data fishing expeditions on private citizens and their personal living choices. Today, more than ever, it’s important to be aware of what you buy. You don’t want to be the target of an investigation because you didn’t brush your teeth after all.