Tracking must provide 'symmetric' benefits, says Nike FuelBand developer

Don't fight tracking devices, advises R/GA group executive creative director, Noel Billig

Noel Billig (left) led development on the Nike FuelBand as group executive creative director at R/GA.

Noel Billig (left) led development on the Nike FuelBand as group executive creative director at R/GA.

Humans won’t mind being tracked by machines if the tracking provides them with sufficient benefits, according to the developer of the Nike FuelBand.

It’s easy to imagine a “scary future” in which devices are constantly tracking people, said Noel Billig, group executive creative director at R/GA said this afternoon at a Vivid Sydney event on startups and the Internet of Things.

“What we need to do is not try to fight these kind of things – because we’re not going to win – and instead figure out how to harness these tracking technologies and ensure they’re delivering symmetric benefit.”

“The benefit of tracking is not simply going to a few companies or a governments that are doing the tracking but that the tracking is actually benefiting us individually.”

Already today, many people don’t like being tracked by stores and other businesses for marketing purposes, he said.

But tracking could have benefits if used for other purposes, he said. For example, it could be useful if a device tapped into healthcare data to make recommendations of what food to buy at a supermarket, he said.

The goal of the Nike FuelBand – a wearable wristband that measures and tracks stats about a user’s physical activity during the day – was to create a device that provided mutual benefits to the user and to Nike, said Billig.

The precursor to FuelBand was Nike+, a sensor built into running shoes that synced with the Apple iPod Nano. Billig said he learned from that experience that the tracking product’s success “wasn’t just about the technology itself by an acknowledgement that measurement equals motivation.”

R/GA and Nike developed FuelBand to be a “badge” that users would be “proud to wear,” Billig said. He didn’t want it to look like a medical device that made the user seem like they had to wear it because were unhealthy, he said. The vision was to make putting on the FuelBand in the morning as essential as remembering to take a user’s keys, phone and wallet, he added.

After taking a critical look at product at the end of development, the developers did additional work to add more fun to the product, he said. So the developers added Fuely, a mascot that would appear in animations to celebrate user achievements.

Nike has recently announced it is getting rid of its FuelBand hardware division, but Billig said this was not a sign that Nike was backing away from fitness tracking devices.

“This isn’t Nike retreating from anything,” he said. He compared the move to when Nike stopped putting Nike+ in shoes and moved to a mobile app using the smartphone’s GPS chip.

In this light, Nike’s goal seems rather to innovate and “switch with the times,” he said.

Adam Bender covers startup and business tech issues for Techworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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Tags wearable devicessurveillancetrackingsecurityInternet of Things (IoT)Nike FuelBandR/GAfitnessmobileprivacy

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