Amazon wants your body’s measurements
The company is rolling out new wearable tech that will take the relationship between people and their gadgets to new, intimate heights. What might it portend for the health insurance industry?
So, modern-day consumer, just how much personal data are you willing to entrust to a big tech corporation in order to enhance your life? Amazon is betting the answer to that question is “pretty much all of it.” Amazon has already invaded your home with Alexa and Amazon Prime. It knows your grocery list, your preferred interior temperature, and your child’s favorite television show. Now, with its upcoming wearable tech, Halo, it wants to know everything about your body and health. That even includes whether your tone of voice is possibly lacking some positivity. Seriously.
Halo is a wristband with sensors that collect data about your activity, sleep, temperature, and heart activity. Users are expected to wear the band at all times in order to constantly feed data to an application on your phone. Through the app and a paid service, users will receive all sorts of feedback and input on how to achieve better health outcomes. Amazon has partnered with a wide variety of companies such as Lifesum, Sweat, or 8fit who can tailor a regime to have you looking and feeling your best.
But Halo goes far beyond the typical features consumers have come to expect from fitness trackers. Surely you wouldn’t upload an almost nude picture of yourself to a company’s servers to let them analyze it for body fat? With Halo, that is exactly what you will do. It requires users to upload pictures of themselves so it can measure body mass index and nudge people towards a healthier body composition. That may sound like some rather intimate technology, but at least Amazon won’t also be evaluating your dinner conversation with your husband for irregularities, right? Well, the Halo band will also measure the tone of your voice to “analyze qualities of your voice like energy and positivity to help strengthen communication.” An algorithm will warn that your low-energy voice is the result of a stressful day and recommend steps to achieve more “voice positivity.” There has been no confirmation on whether Halo recordings can be used in divorce proceedings.
I have written previously in this space about how connected devices are changing the home insurance industry. They have the potential to reshape the health insurance industry as well. As with home technology, the Halo offering revolves around partnerships. Amazon is offering up a number of wellness-related partnerships such as WeightWatchers, Headspace, and Orangetheory fitness. On top of those, the band will also be a fully subsidized option for the John Hancock Vitality wellness program. Users will be able to link their band to the program and earn Vitality points that save them money on insurance thanks to healthier habits. Given the costs of health insurance in the United States, any chance to reduce expenditures is surely attractive. With over 100+ partners, Amazon will have something to fill every health-related niche in your life.
Wearable tech is nothing new. But Halo is yet another example of the biggest companies in the world seeking to enter the health and wellness space. Google is still trying to get their $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit over the line. The Apple watch contains a deep array of health monitoring features and is set to add more with their upcoming iteration. These ventures are more clear signs that big tech wants a bigger role in American health care. As I’ve written previously, Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business and noted observer of the American business landscape, has talked about the need for the biggest American companies to go “big game hunting.” These companies need to maintain and increase their sky-high valuations. You don’t increase the valuation of a trillion-dollar company by searching for scraps, i.e. smaller, growth-limited industries. “People ask if big tech wants to get into education and health care, and I say no, they have to get into education and health care. They have no choice,” says Galloway.
So, in order to continue growing, a massive company like Amazon is spreading its tentacles deep into other industries. It acquired PillPack in 2018 and now delivers your prescriptions. It owns Whole Foods so it can deliver your groceries. It owns Ring so it can be part of your home security system. The list goes on. Amazon wants to be everything to everyone. That goal has been boosted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting uptick in online sales. These past six months have only increased the yawning gap between the top-performing (primarily online) companies and the rest of the pack.
If GAFAM products are the only products being used by consumers, insurers might be left with no choice but to partner with these companies in order to reach customers. John Hancock has wisely understood this and got on board with Halo. Allowing a company to track your health so intimately in order to receive lower insurance premiums might seem far-fetched, but it could form a key part of the future insurance industry. It is not guaranteed to succeed but Amazon is betting that this approach, much like the company itself, will define our future.