Apple, Biogen depression, dementia detection study raises privacy concerns

Occurred: September 2021

A study by Apple, UCLA and Biogen using facial recognition, speech patterns and other behavioural data to detect stress, depression and cognitive decline raised concerns about privacy and the validity of emotion recognition technology.

First announced in August 2020, the study was initially limited to health data such as heart rate and sleep, and how a person interacts with their iPhone, Apple Watch or Beddit sleep-tracker to understand their mental health. 

However, the study was extended to monitor people’s vital signs, movements, speech, sleep, typing habits and frequency of typos, raising concerns from digital rights advocates about the validity of emotion AI/affective computing, privacy, and scope creep, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Apple had sought to position itself as a privacy leader, including insisting that apps in the iOS App Store add privacy 'nutrition labels' to inform users what type of sensitive information the app collects. 

Developer: Apple; Biogen; UCLA
Country: USA
Sector: Health
Purpose: Detect anxiety, depression, autism, dementia
Technology: Emotion recognition; Facial recognition
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Privacy; Scope creep/normalisation

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: September 2021
Last updated: June 2024