Last year, when MNN blogger Michael d'Estries found himself on the losing end of a Fitbit challenge he was competing in with friends, he walked around his neighborhood until the late hours of the night in 10-degree windchill to gain extra steps. Little did he know that all he needed was an electric saw and he could have won that challenge without taking a single step in the cold.
Until recently, I had no idea fitness tracker cheating was even possible. But in a world where fitness tracking and health data sharing has become the norm, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. We've become so competitive about our exercise that even when the only thing at stake is bragging rights, some folks will look for any way to game the system.
When you add money to the mix, the incentive to cheat gets even greater. Some companies offer cash incentives or insurance discounts for employees who win fitness challenges or maintain a certain number of steps. It makes sense for employers, because fit employees take fewer sick days and are likely to be more happy and productive than their couch potato peers. But that just ups the ante and makes cheating even more likely.
And that's where the puppies and the power tools come in. A recent Wall Street Journal article delved into the many ways that people have found to cheat their Fitbit trackers. One man taped his Fitbit to the blade of an electric saw and left it vibrating on his workbench. Another attached his to a ceiling fan. From drills and metronomes to hamster wheels and dogs, some Fitbit wearers have spent more time figuring out ways to trick their trackers than they would have spent actually taking the steps.
There are even YouTube videos and websites dedicated to helping you find ways to cheat at fitness. The website Unfit Bits claims to offer techniques that "help produce personal data to qualify you for insurance rewards even if you can't afford a high exercise lifestyle." It seems to me that if you already own a Fitbit, it's pretty inexpensive to actually use it to go for a walk, but hey, what do I know?
The good news is that technology may soon be one step ahead of the cheaters. The Apple Watch — which comes with a step tracker along with a zillion other features — uses a host of biological metrics to tell whether it is attached to a human or to a power tool. So it might not be long before the other trackers follow suit, thereby preventing this avenue of cheating. But by then I'm sure there will be plenty of creative new methods for tricking the trackers. Or maybe everyone will just skip all of that extra work and go for a walk.