Self tracking - good for you?

Do e-health apps and self tracking lead to better health? This seminar tackles the ethical concerns of using such apps and devices.

Professor Jeanette Pols. Photo: Jeroen Oerlemans/University of Amsterdam.

Professor Jeanette Pols (University of Amsterdam) will visit UiO to talk about e-Health and selv tracking apps, and the ethical concerns of implementing these in the Netherlands.

The seminar has a companion workshop the following day called Health by the Algorithm (please note: you must register separately for the workshop).

Ambitious plans for e-health i the Netherlands

In June 2014, the Dutch minister of health notified the parliament about her intentions to stimulate the use of e-health in the Dutch population. One of the targets of her policy is to have 75% of the elderly and chronically diseased population – if they want and are able to - use e-health apps in 2019, specifically self tracking devices.

Prevent disease by self tracking? 

The idea behind this ambitious aim was that self tracking will lead to the prevention of disease and better health for its users. This stems from a global optimism about statistics that show how smoking, low exercise and bad eating lead to more than half the health care costs through the prevention of chronic diseases, while these ‘lifestyle diseases’ can be prevented. Lifestyles can be changed, is the idea, and the route to this change is sought in the individuals changing their lifestyle by managing their lives better.

The idea is that this is also what they want. Who wants to suffer from debilitating chronic diseases? A related assumpution is that if there is a ‘will’ to change one’s lifestyle, this good reason for optimism. This is assumed to provide a solid agency, to form a motivating drive to actually put one’s lifestyle in accordance with one’s goals and decisions.

Ethical concerns

In this presentation I will explore the ethical concerns with the Dutch health minister’s suggestion. A clear problem is for instance the collection and selling of data people ‘sweat together’, without them knowing this or being able to influence it. But there are also questions about the inscribed users of these apps. How do they make people look at themselves and their health differently? How do measurements (quantified self) relate to experiences (qualified self)? Can measurements do harm? What is the ethico-psychological position of the self-tracker?


Please register for the seminar by sending an e-mail to with the heading "Seminar Pols". 

About Jeanette Pols

Jeannette Pols is Socrates Professor at the department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Behavioral & Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam. The mission of Pols’ chair ‘Social Theory, Humanism & Materialities’ is to build bridges between research in medical ethics and medical anthropology. Her research and teaching develop the ethnographic study of ethical questions. Technologies are central here.In comparative ethnographic analyses, her research provides insight into the practical and desirable ways in which these technologies shape care and societies, and the repertoires of ‘being human’ that follow from these practices. The aim is to discover and develop normative directions in complex technological societies. Pols studies1) how ethical and aesthetic values are embedded in care practices; 2) the ways in which technologies help to shape actual positions of patients and caregivers, and how to evaluate these positions; 3) the practical knowledge of patients and carers.

Published Mar. 13, 2017 12:45 PM - Last modified Mar. 16, 2017 10:13 AM