In the wake of a recent Bay Area earthquake, data science researchers at Jawbone saw they had a unique opportunity. Looking at aggregate anonymized data from users of the Jawbone Up fitness tracker, they were able to chart the sleep disruption caused by the early morning quake.
Of the thousands of users across northern California, only about 10 percent were awake at 3 a.m. When the quake struck at 3:20, the graph shows a large spike in users awoken by the rumbling — up to 93 percent in Napa, Sonoma, and other cities nearest the epicenter.
Predictably, fewer people woke up in cities farther from the quake. Up users in Santa Cruz, almost 100 miles from the epicenter, barely even stirred, while almost half of those within 15 miles of the quake were not only roused from their beds, but didn’t — or couldn’t — get back to sleep at all that night.
While studies like this are necessarily limited by a self-selected user base (Jawbone users may not be entirely representative of the general population), it demonstrates how the Internet of Things offers the chance to draw upon data that researchers would otherwise struggle to collect. Earthquakes are notoriously hard to predict, so the only way researchers can examine their effect on sleep is if a quake happens to occur in the middle of a sleep study.
On an individual level, the combination of connected sleep and fitness trackers, mobile GPS, wearables, and other devices adds up to personalized data that can provide insights into the patterns of our own lives. Jawbone’s analysis demonstrates that once there are enough users, their combined data can also provide insights at a group level.
As IoT technologies become more widespread, expect to see more applications of aggregate, anonymized data to health and science research, alongside an equal amount of concern on data rights, privacy and ownership issues that will inevitably rise with its use.
Related: Twitter DIY earthquake monitor