Gordon Smith

FitBit knows best: Are our invasive apps making us safer?

Approx Reading Time-10Thinking of finally freeing yourself from the oppressive shackles of society’s law and order? You’d better hope there are no fitness buffs involved.




A man in the US is facing murder charges after prosecutors found that his alibi did not match the data collected by his slain wife’s Fitbit.

Richard Dabate is accused of killing his wife in their Connecticut home in 2015, and told police that a masked assailant had broken in at around 9am on December 23rd, 2015. Dabate claims that the assailant subdued him with “pressure points”, before shooting his wife, Connie Dabate, with a gun Richard owned. He says that the man killed his wife as she returned via their garage after a workout at their local YMCA, before he eventually chased the man away using a blowtorch.

But while humanity may be a cesspit of lies and deceit, technology serves as a damning bastion of truth.

According to Connie’s Fitbit, she was moving around for more than an hour after her alleged time of murder. More damning still, the pedometer also showed that she had travelled more than 1,200 feet (about 365 metres in modern-day, metric measurement), after returning home – directly contradicting Richard’s claim that she was killed almost immediately on arrival. According to police documents, the distance between her vehicle and the location she died was “no more than 125 feet”.

The unusual nature of the case is not lost on those involved. As Lancaster, Pennsylvania district attorney Craig Stedman puts it, “to say it is rare to use Fitbit records would be safe. It is an electronic footprint that tracks your movements. It is a great tool for investigators to use.”

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Dabate’s arrest warrant shows a detailed breakdown of his wife’s movements and locations of the day, from the moment she woke up through to the moment she was killed. By utilising the information recorded by sync locations and the activity monitor, investigators were able to produce a timeline of events right down to the minute of when Connie left for the gym, the duration of her trip home, when she walked into the garage, her intermittent movements around the house, and the moment her body stopped moving.

To prove even further that computers are not to be trusted as our partners in crime, records show that Dabate lied about where he was when he sent an email to his employer that morning. Richard said he was on the road – his computer says he was at home.

A 2015 report from the National Institute of Justice shows that digital data – particularly that from a mobile device – is becoming an increasingly critical aspect of criminal investigations. “As the types and sophistication of electronic media from which digital evidence can be gleaned increase, this type of evidence will become an essential part of investigating and prosecuting most crimes,” the report claims.

But maybe the moral here isn’t that computers will ultimately spell the end of criminal behaviour.

Perhaps the big thing to remember is that lying to police – especially in the face of a crime as serious as murder – is a phenomenally bad idea.

Dabate described a “stocky 6 foot 2 inch man” with a “Vin Diesel voice”, and told of his breaking into his home, though signs of forced entry or struggle were found, and police dogs detected no such scent from the alleged intruder.

Five days after his wife was murdered, Dabate attempted to claim a $475,000 life insurance policy, and withdrew $90,000 from an investment account in her name the next month.

In an age where our devices are very quickly becoming smarter than we are, and with geo-fences, location markers and GPS hotspots peppering every inch of our technologically-enhanced world, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep the truth hidden.

He is currently facing trial on charges of murder, tampering with evidence and making a false statement.

Investigators say that his marriage was “in trouble”, with Dabate texting his pregnant girlfriend a month before the killing to let her know that he and his wife were “on the same page” with regards to their upcoming divorce.

While this all does seem very murky and increasingly incriminating, it should be remembered that the case is currently before the courts, and that everyone – extra-marital pregnancies inclusive – is innocent until proven guilty. But in an age where our devices are very quickly becoming smarter than we are, and with geo-fences, location markers and GPS hotspots peppering every inch of our technologically-enhanced world, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep the truth hidden.

For all the doom and gloom stories we read about our forfeiting the right to privacy and our inevitable fall to robotic overlords, it is at the very least refreshing to know that mobile companions respect the rule of law.

We can cry foul on our iEverythings maintaining a constant watch over us, or we can embrace the world of convenience and accountability that the new landscape we live in has afforded us. Yes, it is unnerving to know that we are, more or less, traceable down to the minute – particularly those of us who are fitness-oriented. But this need not necessarily be a bad thing.

The watchful eyes of big brother may well be putting a murderer behind bars, and could be used similarly in future cases against the most brutal of crimes.

That same data could also mean souls wrongly condemned for crimes they did not commit could be spared prosecution.

You’d have to try pretty hard to see a bad side to that.


Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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