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When It Comes to Personalization, Health & Fitness Consumers Want Privacy
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When It Comes to Personalization, Health & Fitness Consumers Want Privacy

Fitness privacy
New research findings around users’ privacy preferences may give fitness app developers pause when designing recommendation systems

Personalization and customization are two buzzwords that most health and wellness companies use to describe their services, apps and platforms as they strive to cater to their users’ specific and unique needs. 

However, fitness consumers are wary and riddled with privacy concerns, according to a recent study, a finding which could be eye-opening for companies looking to target consumers with hyper-personalization. 

It’s a discovery that may come as a surprise, given that many users overshare on social media platforms, whether posting an image of their dinner or providing a play-by-play of a trip to the emergency room. 

According to researchers, recommender systems have become the standard for guiding health actions, replacing traditional approaches based on demographics, activity history and preferences of other users. Instead, platforms use social media data to personalize recommendations based on a user’s activities or those of their friends. 

For example, some popular health and wellness apps, such as MyFitnessPal, allow users to link the app to their social media accounts.

The authors of the study “When Recommender Systems Snoop into Social Media, Users Trust Them Less for Health Advice” used a fitness plan recommender system to discover how users react to recommendations based on social media activity and their social media friends.  

In the study, performed by researchers from Penn State University and the University of Southern California, participants were randomly assigned to one of six personalization approaches, with half allowed to switch to a different approach. 

According to the findings, social media-based personalizations threaten users’ identities and raise privacy concerns. Participants demonstrated a preference for personalized fitness recommendations based on their self-reported preferences, and they also preferred apps that allowed them to choose between different recommendation approaches. 

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that options enhance trust by giving users some control and help alleviate privacy concerns. 

The researchers also revealed that participants particularly loathed the approaches requiring social media access.

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When participants were allowed to choose other filtering approaches, over 96% switched out of the method that provided fitness content they had viewed or liked on social media. Additionally, other approaches based on activities and demographics of friends on social media were also highly unfavorable.

So, what can fitness and health-focused companies that design recommendation systems do?

The researchers suggest that developers and designers be mindful that despite the tendency to overshare on social media, consumers aren’t keen on online apps using such posts for recommendations. 

Instead, developers should consider using identity-protective information and allow users to choose their preferred method of recommendation.

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