ESPN does “Biometrics”

ESPN does “Biometrics” and the results leave the ten or twenty, or so, of us who believe that a heart monitor isn’t a biometric device a little disappointed.

Indeed, it appears we are losing the great Biometrics vs. Biostatistics debate. Back in 2011, we made the case for distinguishing between biometrics and biostatistics as follows.

Biometric = body measure.

Biostatistic = body status, state, or condition.

Biometrics for identity management concern facts about the physical human body that don’t change (or don’t change much) over time.

Biostatistics, on the other hand, are useful precisely because they change, sometimes radically over short or long time-frames.

ESPN provides the latest evidence that our plea has fallen upon deaf ears in New biometric tests invade the NBA.

But what might come as a surprise is how significant that explosion has been, and how far its blast radius might soon reach. The literary specter haunting sports’ burgeoning Information Age is no longer Michael Lewis and Moneyball but George Orwell and 1984.

The boom officially began during work hours. Before last season, all 30 arenas installed sets of six military-grade cameras, built by a firm called SportVU, to record the x- and y-coordinates of every person on the court at a rate of 25 times a second — a technology originally developed for missile defense in Israel. This past spring, SportVU partnered with Catapult, an Australian company that produces wearable GPS trackers that can gauge fatigue levels during physical activity. Catapult counts a baker’s dozen of NBA clients, including the exhaustion-conscious Spurs, and claims Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as both a customer and investor. To front offices, the upside of such devices is rather obvious: Players, like Formula One cars, are luxury machines that perform best if vigilantly monitored, regulated and rested.

But to follow this logic to its conclusion is to understand why the scope of this monitoring is expanding, and faster than the public knows. Teams have always intuited that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court choices — how a player exhausts himself after hours, for instance, or what he eats and drinks. Now the race is on to comprehensively surveil and quantify that behavior.

It’s possible that some employers have delusions tending rather to Big Brother. The article linked here, however, has nothing to do with biometrics as we discuss them here: as identity management tools.

The headline writer’s passive voice has “biometric tests”ex nihilo “invading” the NBA. Tests and monitoring, biometric or otherwise, can’t assert themselves. Technology, biometric or otherwise, is about people.

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