Technology

Police Use Fitbit Data To Arrest 90-Year-Old Man In Stepdaughter’s Death

fitbit data
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Fitbit wearables are known for accurately tracking fitness activities. Their results are apparently so accurate that police used Fitbit data to charge a 90-year-old man with the murder of his stepdaughter.

How Fitbit data helped police

In September, police found the victim, Karen Navarra, 67, dead in her kitchen with a knife in her hand suggesting it was a suicide. Her stepfather, Anthony Aiello, told police that he visited the victim just for 15 minutes to drop off a pizza. However, police say the Fitbit Alta she was wearing tells a slightly different story, The New York Times reports.

Police say the Fitbit data from her device showed a significant spike in her heart rate immediately before it slowed and then stopped. They allege that this spike, slowdown and stop happened while Aiello was there, based on video footage they obtained. Police say they later found bloodstained clothes at Aiello’s property and then arrested him on Sept. 25.

Police say Navarra’s Fitbit data showed a spike in her heart rate at about 3:20 local time, the same time Aiello’s car was at her house, based on the video evidence. The fitness tracker then recorded her heart rate slowing down and eventually stopping at 3:28, which police say was five minutes before Aiello left.

Navarra was a pharmacy technician who lived alone, Navarra’s mother and Aiello told the police. Aiello denies that he murdered his stepdaughter and suggests someone else did it. As to the blood stains found on his clothes, Aiello says he cuts himself frequently. When he was told that the blood stains are not in one spot but rather are scattered, he suggested that “he might have cut his hand and shaken it while he was wearing those shirts,” reads an affidavit, according to CNN.

As of now, no motive for the alleged murder has been publicly disclosed.

Growing use of smart gadgets to solve murder cases

This is not the first time police have used Fitbit data in a murder case. In 2017, police charged Richard Dabate with the murder of his wife after data from her fitness tracker allegedly discredited Dabate’s claim that an intruder shot her. Police said the time of the murder given by Dabate didn’t match the Fitbit data from her last moments. Dabate has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

In another case earlier this year, Fitbit data also allegedly helped solve the murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts, who was killed after she went out for an evening jog.

It is not just Fitbit data that is coming in handy for police investigations. Authorities are increasingly using data from other wearables and smart home devices to solve cases marred by reliable witnesses. Only last year, investigators requested Amazon Echo data linked to a murder case.

“From doorbell security footage to Fitbit, technology engineered to solve some of life’s issues are solving serious crimes,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told the New York Times.

Amazon initially refused to hand over the data, saying such communications fall under the First Amendment. However, the company later handed over the data after a request by the Echo’s owner, who was the defendant in the case.

Fitbit, on the other hand, has no such issues in handing over user data. In fact, Fitbit’s privacy policy clearly says that it may use the data to “promote the safety and security of … our users, and other parties” and also to “respond to a legal request.”

Saving lives as well

Along with helping authorities solve cases, these gadgets also help save lives. For instance, the heart rate monitor in the Apple Watch helped an 18-year-old suffering from undiagnosed kidney disease. In April, Deanna Recktenwald of the Tampa, Fla. area was surprised after her Apple Watch gave a notification that her heart rate was at 190 beats per minute.

Her mother then took her to a clinic, where doctors diagnosed her with chronic kidney disease. It must be noted that she showed no previous symptoms of the disease. Later, Recktenwald’s mother thanked Apple via letter.

“If it wasn’t for her Apple watch alarming her about her HR we wouldn’t have discovered her kidney issue. I honestly feel your Apple Watch saved my daughter’s life,” the letter said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked Recktenwald’s mother for sharing the story.

There have been several incidents when an Apple Watch user claimed the gadget helped saved their lives. For example, in an incident late last year, a woman used the emergency SOS feature to summon police after a horrible car accident.