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Should a pocket breathalyser be your drinking buddy?

Amber Bouman | July 3, 2014
Drinking and driving is obviously a terrible idea. But are pocket-sized, smartphone-connected breathalyzers a good way to tell if you're too buzzed, or just a silly toy that will make your friends drink more?

Like the other two gadgets, the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer lights up with blue LEDs. Aside from one button and the breathing port, there's not much else to the BACtrack except the Micro-USB charging port on the bottom. The easiest to handle, the BACTrack is also the most expensive Breathalyzer we tested, at $150.

Smartphone Breathalyzer Tip #5: Everyone in the bar/restaurant/club/museum/ballpark will want to talk to you about your breathalyzer--using it in public attracts a lot of attention. (Why do they have to light up?!) Remember to bring along spare mouthpieces because everyone is going to ask to test their BAC.

Once you have Bluetooth enabled on your device, pairing is just a matter of turning on the BACTrack and tapping the "Pair Your BACtrack" button in the app. Once your device has been registered, the button turns to "Take a Reading." Tapping this button takes you to a clock that counts down a minute, then the screen displays eight bars; blowing into the BACtrack fills these bars by turning them bright blue.

The app then calculates your BAC and displays it with a description of what it means--for example, "It is likely that you are sober or very close to it" displays for a 0.00 BAC. Tapping OK here takes you to your full result which shows your BAC as a percentage and gives details on how your BAC level might be affecting you, as well as other data like a toggle button that asks if you waited the 15-minute grace period, a toggle button to indicate if the reading is yours or a friend's, the date, time, and your location on a map.

And that's where BACtrack and I started fighting.

All this data--your username, location, BAC reading, and any photos you take and drinks that you tag--is shared on a WorldView map on BACtrack's website for anyone to see. Enabling "Share Readings Anonymously" in the Data Storage section of the settings still shares your location, time, BAC, photos, and tagged drinks. And in order to save any of your BAC readings within the app, you have to enable Store My Data in the Data Storage section--which stores each of your readings on BACtrack's servers.

There's no way to disable the app from attaching geotagging location to breath readings, unless you opt to remain completely anonymous by deleting all your readings after you take them, making any of the tracking features of the app essentially useless. BACtrack also makes its readings easy to share on Facebook or Twitter, in case you're looking to get fired. BACtrack's CEO has said the goal of the sharing features is to create a dialogue and remove the stigma of measuring BAC, but that's one thing, and posting my location and how intoxicated I am on a map on your website is another.


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