I've been a dedicated Fitbit fan for nearly five years now. Ever since the company purchased my beloved Pebble, I've been using some of the best Fitbit wearables to track my exercise, steps, and sleep. One of the things that I value most about the Fitbit experience is the ability to jump back in time to see how my activity, weight, or stats have changed over time, but if a recent email that I received from the company is any indication, that freewheeling ability to look at my own historical fitness data may be about to go away.
According to a customer survey that Fitbit recently emailed, it looks like Google may have found a way to monetize users' Fitbit data that adheres to its commitment to regulators not to use said data for advertising purposes. So how do they plan to do that? Our favorite "s" word — subscriptions!
I am personally still very excited at the prospect of new Fitbit hardware under Google's guidance, and can't wait to see what the first Google/Fitbit smartwatch will look like. Over the past few weeks and months, we've already started to see useful features like the Google Assistant come to the Versa 3 and Sense watches, and you can even view your Fitbit sleep data on Google Assistant smart displays. The company is also now featuring its Fitbit products in the Google Store.
According to Google's head of hardware Rick Osterloh, one of the tentpole promises that Google made to regulators when it agreed to acquire Fitbit was that the deal would be about "devices, not data" and that consumers' health and wellness data would not "be used for Google ads." I hope that Google sticks to these promises, but the simple fact is that no matter how many attempts it makes in the hardware space, Google is first and foremost a software company. Actually, scratch that, Google is a data company. So considering that, you didn't really expect Google not to explore ways to monetize its new treasure trove of health and wellness data, did you?
According to the aforementioned survey, it appears that Google is testing the subscription waters and exploring additional tiers and options for the Fitbit Premium service. Fitbit Premium currently offers subscribers in-depth health metrics and analytics, as well as guidance on how to interpret and act upon that data. There are also guided meditation, wellness, and fitness programs and the option to pay a little more for personalized workout plans.
Fitbit Premium is facing stiff competition from Apple and Peleton, so it makes sense that Google wants to get more out of it.
If any of the new tiers are implemented, Fitbit customers could be offered cheaper and more premium versions of Fitbit Premium, with fewer or more options available for the price differences. That's all well and good, but what I'm worried about is the cheapest option the survey asked about. This would "give" users access to their lifetime historical fitness data, something we already have for free and have had since the first Fitbit trackers came out.
To be clear, there would still be a "free" tier that would offer limited historical insights (perhaps for a month or more). However, unless you paid for at least the basic tier, you would no longer be able to see how much you slept that week in April 2018 or look at your run from that vacation two years ago.
On one level, I completely understand what Google/Fitbit is trying to do with this survey. They want to gauge how valuable these services are to their fanbase — which makes total sense. Many sustainable apps and services have moved to some form of a subscription model, and for all that Fitbit provides, I'm sure many will see the value in paying for those services. However, it would really suck if Google put that lifetime data behind a paywall, especially for those of us who have many years of data to show for our loyalty.
Google/Fitbit runs the risk of losing longtime loyalists, like myself.
If this entry-level tier of Fitbit Premium does come to pass, I hope Google would grandfather older users in, or give a long introductory offer like Fitbit did for those who purchases an Inspire 2, Versa 3, or Sense. Otherwise, I suspect it will lose a lot of its loyal fanbase, myself probably included. After all, there are a ton of great smartwatches and fitness trackers out there to choose from!
Update 2/23/21: Following the initial publication of this article, a Fitbit spokesperson reached out to Android Central to clarify the company's intentions for the survey with the following statement.
We continue to invest in Fitbit Premium, our subscription service launched in 2019, to bring even more health and wellness insights and motivation to people around the world. Like many brands, we occasionally survey our user community to gain valuable feedback on everything from features they might like to see to pricing, and this helps us continue to deliver accessible tools that will help users meet their unique health goals. We are not announcing any changes to Fitbit Premium pricing at this time and want to assure customers that as stated, we will continue to protect Fitbit users' privacy by maintaining strong data privacy and security protections, giving you control of your data and staying transparent about what we collect and why.