Exposing the security risk in fitness trackers

Posted at 8:22 PM, May 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 14:37:46-04

There are so many options to choose from when it comes to fitness trackers: Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, Misfit, the list goes on and on. Many track your steps, your sleep and even more.

But there are also some things to be aware of when it comes to the security of fitness trackers.

“I think most people don’t know what they're getting into with fitness devices,” technology expert Burton Kelso said. 

And it may be easy for a stranger to keep tabs on you for some fitness trackers with Bluetooth capabilities.

People like the Bluetooth connection because it allows users to wirelessly sync their data to their accounts. But there are also Bluetooth mapper apps out there. One we found that’s available for Android users is called Ramble. Kelso says some of these mapper apps open people up to security issues.

“As far as personal safety, this is an issue. People aren’t thinking, 'I'm wearing this device and someone could track my movements,'" Kelso said.

We went to Crossroads Bootcamp and tested out the Ramble app. It pulled up seven devices inside, five of which were fitness trackers. It even includes the Media Access Control, or MAC, address, which is a unique identifier for each device.

Once the class ended and people started leaving, the devices started disappearing. With that information, it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out which device belonged to each person.

We met up with two of the women in the class, Denise Berger and Libby Allman, later at a different location to test it. Sure enough, both devices showing the same MAC address popped up.

“I know it’s wireless and goes through my phone, but the thought that someone could see it never once crossed my mind,” said Berger.

Allman agreed. "Being able to know she’s not at home, maybe she’s at work, so let me go to her house. It’s scary from that perspective.”

We showed the app to Kelso and he was surprised to see what the app could show.

Kelso said the security on fitness trackers needs to improve. "It's hard with technology because a lot of us don’t understand how it all works. We look at the end result of what it does for us.”

He suggests turning off the Bluetooth function if you are worried about someone trying to track you.  

Allman says that’s what she plans to do. “You have to be prepared for what the consequences are. It’s made me rethink whether I want the Bluetooth on.”

As for the Bluetooth mapper apps, it seems companies are aware they exist. For example, if you go to Fitbit’s website, they even recommend using one to your Fitbit if you lose it. But the Ramble app we showed is not one they recommend.

Our tech expert says the best thing you can do before buying any fitness tracker or turning on the Bluetooth is to do your research.



Rhiannon Ally can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter

Follow @RhiannonAlly

Connect on Facebook