A new generation of wearables may know when you’re stressed
Health monitoring tech like Google Fit and the Apple Health app rake in millions of dollars every year. But they are primarily limited to physical aspects like fitness and sleep quality. Recently, however, multiple companies are attempting to tackle the psychological aspects of consumers’ wellbeing, raising numerous questions regarding privacy, accuracy, and ethics.
Both Fitbit and Tinder cofounder, Sean Rad, are offering new products billed as tools to better keep track and improve users’ mental health. The former’s newest item, the Sense 2, is a wearable akin to the Apple Watch that attempts to monitor your stress levels in realtime, then react accordingly. Aside from already ubiquitous datapoints like heart rate and skin temperature, Fitbit’s Sense 2 constantly measures electrodermal activity, aka sweat levels.
[Related: A beginner’s guide to Google Fit and Apple Health.]
Meanwhile, Rad’s Happy Ring company is already taking preorders for its new wearable designed that checks in with users whenever it notices stress-indicating fluctuations in biometrics. “Happy Ring makes no claims of being a diagnostic tool. Rather, the company believes it has cracked the code of monitoring wearers’ progress, in a kind of mental health analog to fitness trackers like Apple Watch and Oura,” explains TechCrunch in a recent writeup. “Much like those products, it purports to be a method for monitoring those vital readings and presenting actionable data to help get the wearer back on track.”
There is no upfront hardware cost to the Happy Ring—instead, consumers will pay for one of three subscription tiers ranging between $20 and $30 per month on a contract basis. When paired with its app, Happy Ring will monitor wearers’ biometric data in real-time, alerting them when it detects spikes in stress or tension and directing them to aid like cognitive behavioral therapy and breathing exercises, meditation prompts, and educational articles.
[Related: Tinder and the metaverse are breaking up.]
Many consumers may be intrigued by the idea of having comparatively cheap, constantly available digital counselor at their side, but there are numerous caveats to new products like these. First, as always, is understanding how customers’ data will be stored, utilized, and potentially sold to third-parties. None of these services are purely altruistic, and consumer health data is a goldmine to countless companies looking to hone their markets.
Secondly, an app’s recommendations are rarely a perfect substitute for actual mental health services and aid. While access to counselors and psychologists remains a major barrier for a huge portion of the country, products like Fitbit and Happy Ring won’t always be suitable alternatives. Then there’s the question of accuracy—inner psychological workings are much more complicated than physical exercise routines. It could be ineffective, potentially even dangerous, to think these intersectional issues can be broken down by apps and wearables. This isn’t to write off the industry entirely, but a healthy degree of skepticism is necessary when approaching what appears to be an inevitably massive industry in the years ahead.