Personal Analytics in the Grocery Store

I made a quick trip to the Atlantic Superstore last night to pick up a few things; we’re a Sobeys family, but, driving by the Superstore, I was reminded that they sell rather tasty smoky tempeh strips, and I temporarily switched my religion to accommodate.

The tempeh section of the Superstore is right beside the pharmacy, and while I was making the rounds I noticed a “wellness station” there.

While on the surface this looked like a version of a blood pressure station of the type that most pharmacies have these days, it turned out to be a more complete “personal analytics” pod that measures, in addition to blood pressure, pulse, weight and body fat percentage.

Starting a session requires an on-screen enrollment: creating an account with email address and password, and answering a few questions (height, sex, etc.)

The machine then measures blood pressure and pulse (using the traditional left-arm-in-cuff method), weight (you raise your legs to a bar and the scale measures you through the bench you’re sitting on) and body fat percentage (you hold onto a couple of handles, and are measured using bioelectrical impedance).

You get your results both on the screen and, if you like, via yourwellnessstation.ca:

Website display of Wellness Station results

The Superstore isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons: in addition to building foot traffic for the pharmacy, the privacy policy for the service discloses a range of other possible uses, including marketing back to you using the information gathered:

To support the Wellness Services, which we provide at no cost to you, we may use non sensitive Personal Information and data collected through cookies and similar technology to deliver Loblaw and third-party interest-based advertising to you on and off the Wellness Services. We will obtain your permission before we provide individualized Body Measurement data or sensitive Personal Information to third-party ad networks to deliver third-party interest-based advertising outside of the Wellness Services. Please note, and you agree through use of the Wellness Services, that we may personalize your experience, including by showing you advertising, on the Wellness Services using data we learn about you.

So one can anticipate ads in the style of “we noticed your blood pressure is higher this month, ask your pharmacist about Paltroxitron Alpha.”

Which makes “no cost to you” a semantically shaky statement to make.

Indeed, the technology driving all this is made by a U.S. company called Higi, and their marketing materials made it clear that this is the goal:

Users engage on our platform, track progress at our stations, online at higi.com and via mobile applications, engage in challenges and connect with their health community via higi’s omni-channel platform. For those with a stake in the health and wellbeing of their community, higi is a gateway, allowing our partners to:

  • Engage with patients for better outcomes
  • Drive at-risk patients to the pharmacy
  • Find at-risk populations and become their partner in health
  • Use our marketing channels to promote products and programs

The creepiness of this makes me think that personal analytics of this type are the sort of thing that we should consider investing in public infrastructure to support: if we install public analytics pods in places like community centres and libraries, and allow users to store the data gathered in a medium that they control, then we could have much more confidence over the privacy and security aspects of the tool, and could have complete, transparent control over who we choose, if anyone, to share the data with.

I’d be much happier having the option to share my personal analytics with the office of my family doctor than I would handing it over to Loblaw’s.

All that being said, looking under the hood of the yourwellnesstation.ca site, it turns out that the data gathered is conveniently available as JSON; for example:

{
  "data": [
    {
      "id": "REDACTED",
      "userId": "REDACTED",
      "serviceId": "higi",
      "referenceId": null,
      "deviceId": "14694",
      "categories": [
        "Health"
      ],
      "timestamp": "2017-07-06T20:01:41.000-04:00",
      "timestampUTC": "2017-07-07T00:01:41.000Z",
      "createdUTC": "2017-07-07T00:01:43.995Z",
      "updatedUTC": "2017-07-07T00:01:43.995Z",
      "selfReported": false,
      "anomalyCodes": [],
      "metrics": {
        "height": 1.85,
        "weight": 91.625658742027156,
        "pulse": 76,
        "fatRatio": 22.21,
        "hydration": "0.35",
        "bmcResistance": 665.2,
        "isAthlete": false,
        "systolic": 103,
        "diastolic": 74,
        "checkinHigiStation": 1,
        "gender": "m",
        "age": 51,
        "bpClass": "normal",
        "map": 83.666666666666671,
        "mapClass": "normal",
        "pulseClass": "normal",
        "bmi": 26.77,
        "bmiClass": "overweight",
        "fatClass": "acceptable"
      },
      "hasGps": false,
      "gpsUrl": "",
      "kioskInfo": {
        "kioskId": "49043",
        "mergeId": "14694",
        "address1": "465 Univerisity Ave",
        "address2": null,
        "city": "Charlottetown",
        "state": "PE",
        "zip": "C1A 4N8",
        "organizations": [
          "Real Atlantic Superstore"
        ],
        "gps": {
          "latitude": 46.2513,
          "longitude": -63.13864,
          "address": null
        },
        "type": "Retail",
        "hours": "{"Mon":"7:00 am-12:00 am","Tue":"12:00 am-12:00 am","Wed":"12:00 am-12:00 am","Thu":"12:00 am-12:00 am","Fri":"12:00 am-12:00 am","Sat":"12:00 am-12:00 am","Sun":"12:00 pm-8:00 pm"}",
        "weeklyHours": {
          "Mon": "7:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Tue": "12:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Wed": "12:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Thu": "12:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Fri": "12:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Sat": "12:00 am-12:00 am",
          "Sun": "12:00 pm-8:00 pm"
        },
        "timeOffsetMins": -240,
        "dma": "",
        "dmaName": "",
        "serial": "CSA-2016085107",
        "mapVisible": "true",
        "status": "Deployed",
        "locationId": "C1A4N8-002",
        "storeNumber": "Real Atlantic Superstore #00376",
        "storeDivision": null
      }
    }
  ],
  "paging": {
    "current": "https://coreapi.higi.com:443/activity/users/FRs6hh7KDUatmMMiIcG1kg/activities?sort=timestampDesc&metrics=weight%2cbmi%2cfatRatio&includeWatts=false&includeDisplayMetrics=false&includeKioskInfo=true&pageNumber=1&pageSize=200&cacheKey=pxB35KoiX0KVlLhUBdVhsg",
    "pageNumber": 1,
    "pageSize": 200,
    "total": 1
  }
}

This means it would be trivial to develop an app to harvest this data and use it for personal rather than corporate betterment, using the pod with a throwaway email address and thus taking advantage of the infrastructure without being subject to the sketchy marketing aspects.

Comments

Bob's picture
Bob on July 21, 2018 - 21:42 Permalink

You can just skip the registration and do the tests.