Sweatcoin is an app that awards you a digital currency (sweatcoins) based on how many steps you take per day. These coins can then be traded for special offers or real world money.
Does it live up to the hype? Here's my experience with it.
Recently, I’ve been trying out an app called Sweatcoin.
The promise of Sweatcoin is simple: you download the app on your phone, it monitors how many steps you take per day, and rewards you with sweatcoins for steps taken. These coins can then be traded for various offers: coupons, cheap gadgets, and on the high end, even real world money, vacation packages, expensive electronics, and more. 1000 steps equates to 0.95 sweatcoin, which accumulate over time in the app without you needing to do anything except leave it running. You can also watch an ad once a day to earn a bonus sweatcoin.
In theory, you’re getting paid money to walk around every day.
In practice, it’s not quite so simple.
First of all, the app does drain your battery life quite a bit while running in the background - I've seen a noticeable difference in terms of its effect on my battery life. This can be limited by turning on a power saving option within the app, but this also limits the accuracy of the app's algorithm for counting your steps. This isn't great if, as the app is supposed to be encouraging you to do, you’re spending a lot of time walking around, far away from your power outlet.
Second, you’re limited by how many steps you can accrue per day. To start, this is 5000 steps, which equates to about 5 sweatcoins. You can raise this cap by paying a number of sweatcoins monthly, but this quickly becomes an odd exercise in maths - are you walking around enough each day to justify paying the monthly sweatcoin fee to raise the cap, or no? Realistically, unless you're getting in more than 5000 steps per day pretty regularly, it's worth it, but otherwise it probably isn't.
Third, the app doesn't count all your steps. Sweatcoin uses its own algorithm to filter your step data and make sure that you're not trying to cheat it by doing things like shaking your phone. This algorithm double checks that your steps resemble a regular walking pattern, and takes out some based on the ones that are more suspect. In theory, this seems practical. In practice, you lose out on a LOT of steps. The algorithm also doesn't work for walking inside - which means that many steps won't count anyway (walking around your home or workplace, for example). Only steps outside count.
The value of a single sweatcoin is hard to estimate - many lower end offers will run you 5-10, but higher end offers may charge you thousands. Available offers in the app’s store vary from location to location and from day to day, but generally they’re coupons (save money on X) instead of true free items, making it hard to calculate exactly how much money you’re making per offer. Yes, you're saving money, but only because you're getting a discount on something they've convinced you to purchase.
In essence, this makes the app a glorified coupon retailer, convincing you to purchase products that you may not normally consider simply because you can get “deals”, in exchange for some token nod at “charging” you via the app’s internal currency.
One of the high end offers is 1000$/£, paid out to you via Paypal. I imagine that this is there to entice you to save up, and give you a large goal to shoot for. Who doesn’t want an extra thousand?
This offer costs an appropriately large amount of sweatcoins: 20,000. This allows us to get an accurate account of the value of a single sweatcoin: 5 cents. This puts the rest of the app in bizarre perspective when you do the math. If you cap out your 5000 steps per day to earn your 5 sweatcoin, plus watch an ad to get the bonus sweatcoin, you’d make about $/£0.30 per day, or about $/£110 per year. At this rate, it would take about nine years to earn enough coins to trade for cash (they don’t let you trade in at an equivalent rate for smaller amounts), and in the meantime you’d waste a lot of energy running the app on your phone.
It's unclear what the tradeoff would be (your electricty bill per year for charging your phone versus the $/£110 per year you make from the app, if and only if you manage to stick it out for 10 years). I'm willing to bet that it wouldn't pay off meaningfully.
Likewise, it seems absurd that you’d spend 5 sweatcoin here and there on anything meaningful - and again, the cheaper offers are mostly coupons to begin with, so it’s unlikely that you’d really “make” much money off of them, so much as save a bit here and there if you needed to purchase something that was on offer.
One could imagine sweatcoin being a true cryptocurrency in the sense that the app does allow for real world offers and sales - you can offer to sell or trade services in the app, locally, for a defined number of sweatcoins. I imagine that if there were a thriving economy of people trading goods for sweatcoins in order to cash in on the big cash prize at a fair going rate, this could make it a meaningful use of the currency.
Of course, the big loser in that scenario is the app itself, which would be forced to pay out 1000$/£ every time someone trades around to get enough sweatcoins to game the system. This doesn’t happen, however, because you can rarely find anyone in your area offering anything. In London, I could find only about 3 local offers, and none of them for anything interesting.
In short, it becomes clear that sweatcoin doesn’t really deliver on its initial promise of “making money” while you walk - yes, in a technical sense, but it’s so small an amount of money that it's a waste. Meanwhile, you’re giving the app permission to drain your battery and track your steps wherever you go, which is undesirable if you worry about your privacy in our increasingly-data-driven world, where companies can sell your data to the highest bidder, or have it accessed by unexpected hackers.
One positive thing I’ll point out is that the app does encourage you, a little bit, to get out and get more activity in. The idea of getting paid to walk around is enticing, and I’ll admit that I did sometimes appreciate opening the app to see how many steps I’d logged that week so that I could decide whether or not to walk more. That said, many other apps can do the same thing without additionally draining your battery.
If you’re looking to get rich or in shape, this app unfortunately probably isn’t worth your time, except maybe as something to leave on your phone and ignore. Chances are that it won’t ever pay off.
I've written a lot before on why the promise of quantified self (tracking yourself via apps and devices to get more personal biometric data you can use to make health decisions) is flawed. Sweatcoin rolls that up with cryptocurrency in a way that seems ultimately to be quite disappointing.
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