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Fitbits Are Snitching on Criminals — Here’s How

Wearable tech can track heart rate and location, and that’s helping cops solve crimes

Fitbit's new Alta HR device is displayed in New York. The company known for encouraging people to walk 10,000 steps each day, now wants to put them to sleep as wellTEC New Fitbit, New York, USA - 01 Mar 2017

AP/REX Shutterstock

Fitbit data has led to the arrest of a 90-year-old California man for the murder of his stepdaughter. Anthony Aiello told police that he last saw Karen Navarra five days before her body was discovered by a coworker last month, and that he had been at her house for a brief visit and to drop off homemade pizza and biscotti. What he didn’t realize was that Navarra’s Fitbit recorded her heart-rate spiking significantly around 3:20 pm on September 8, when he was at her house, and stopping completely shortly after. After her wearable tech pinpointed her time of death as coinciding with the visit from her stepfather, authorities charged Aiello with Navarra’s murder.

While Fitbits, and other health-tracking wearable tech like the Apple Watch, and even the health app that comes automatically installed on iPhones, were originally designed to help users track information like how many steps they take in a day and their heart-rate for the purpose of health and fitness, the tech has also proven to be a valuable crime-solving tool. Here are a few other recent cases where wearable tech has been key to solving murder cases:

  • In May, a Wisconsin jury convicted George Burch of murder for the 2016 killing of Nicole VanderHeyden. VanderHeyden’s boyfriend, Douglass Detrie, was initially arrested for the crime, and despite a lack of evidence against him, Burch’s defense tried to paint Detrie as the real killer to create reasonable doubt during trial. But Detrie’s Fitbit showed that he was asleep at the time of the murder, not killing his girlfriend and the mother of his six-month-old son. And in this case, not only did tech exonerate the wrongly accused boyfriend, it also helped convict Burch — data on his phone showed that he was at the location of the murder when VanderHeyden was killed.

 

  • In April, Apple Watch data narrowed the window of time to a seven-minute period during which the heart rate of Myrna Nilsson, who was murdered in Australia in 2016, increased while she was being attacked, to when it slowed when she lost consciousness, and then stopped when she died. This contradicted the story her daughter-in-law Caroline Nilsson told police about Myrna arguing with a group of men for 20 minutes after a road rage incident. Caroline was charged with her mother-in-law’s murder, and will go to trial in 2019.

 

  • When his wife Connie was murdered in 2015, Richard Dabate told police that he was at home when a masked intruder broke in and tied him to a chair, and then shot Connie as she entered the house through the garage, on her way home from a workout (wearing her Fitbit). Investigators used the home alarm system, both of the Dabate’s cell phones, and Connie’s Fitbit to contradict Richard’s account of the crime. The two most damning data points were that her phone was connected to their home Wifi, uploading photos to Facebook, shortly before she was killed (when she was supposedly being confronted by a masked gunman), and that her Fitbit showed she walked a distance of 1,217 feet in the approximately 40 minutes before the movement stops. If she’d only walked from her car to the basement, where she died, the device would have only recorded 125 feet during that time. He’s currently on trial for her murder currently.

In This Article: Crime, Dystopia, technology

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