Data trail betrayal

Fitbit data just undermined a woman’s rape claim


It turns out that a fitness tracker can do more to betray you than showing your friends and families you’re a couch potato. It can also undermine your claims about being a victim of a crime.

In March, a Florida woman traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she stayed at her boss’s home, reports ABC 27. On a Tuesday, police were called to the home where they found overturned furniture, a knife and a bottle of vodka, according to Lancaster Online. Jeannine Risley told police she’d been sleeping and that she was woken up around midnight and sexually assaulted by a “man in his 30s, wearing boots.” However, Risley was wearing her Fitbit band at the time. She initially said that the Fitbit had been lost in the struggle, but police found it in a hallway and when they downloaded its activity, the device became a witness against her.

According to ABC 27, Risley handed the username and password for her Fitbit account over to police. What they found contradicted her account of what happened that night. Via Lancaster Online:

[A] Fitbit device Risley was wearing told a different story, the affidavit shows.

The device, which monitors a person’s activity and sleep, showed Risley was awake and walking around at the time she claimed she was sleeping.

Local police also thought it was odd that there were no footprints in the snow around the home. After Risley’s boss, who is unnamed in news reports, offered what police considered further incriminating evidence, telling police that Risley was about to lose her position with the company, local authorities charged her with “false reports to law enforcement, false alarms to public safety, and tampering with evidence” for upending the furniture. A Facebook message sent to Risley was not returned.

If the misdemeanor case against Risley moves forward, it wouldn’t be the first time Fitbit data was used in court. It’s happened before, when a Canadian woman used the data from her tracker in a personal injury lawsuit. But in that case, the Fitbit wearer used the data to defend her request for compensation, and show that she was less active after a car accident.

For Risley, fitness-tracking may have backfired, tracking something she didn’t necessarily want committed to the record. It’s likely we’ll see more Fitbits being trotted out in court in the future, as the wearable trend takes hold, and self-tracking leads to self-incrimination.

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