Can A Smartphone Help Us Detect Depression?

Depression, cognitive decline, and infantile autism are just some of the mental disorders that Apple is trying to combat through its devices. .Statistics show that the world's rates of depression and anxiety have risen in recent years, not to mention the exponential increase caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. 

To give an example related to the Wall Street Journal, in January 2021, the percentage of adults with symptoms related to anxiety or depression reached 41%, a number that is already significant in itself, representing almost half of the adult population. But it is an even more considerable number of Apple's users' entrepreneur's compared to 2019, when the percentage was three quarters lower than above.

The protagonists

The Protagonists 

Apple's most recent challenge is the one against depression. The company is now collaborating with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Biogen, an American multinational biotechnology company. At the moment, UCLA is studying diseases such as stress, anxiety, and depression, while Biogen, which specialises in the delivery of therapies for the treatment of neurological diseases to patients worldwide, is now studying mild cognitive impairment.

What does the project consist of?

Exactly how this research is to be carried out is unknown, as the American internet entrepreneur's company is cautious about its privacy.  For now, it can be said that the goal of the UCLA researchers is to track data from the camera, keyboard, audio sensors and watch of the iPhone. Concretely, this means revelating the different facial expressions of the users, the rhythm and frequency of the walks, the typing on the keyboard, including typing errors and content of their texts, how the users speak and express themselves, the vital signs, the heart and respiratory rates and the times and hours of sleep. 

what about privacy

What about privacy?

We should write the problem in the singular because there is only one problem, namely privacy. However, the fact is that this problem is articulated in consequence (after) and obstacle (before). One potential problem that could arise from this type of project concerns the sensitive issue of privacy because the request for the extension of user tracking could be a problem. Apple has therefore decided to rely on algorithms, which will aim to work only on users' devices, thus excluding the sending of personal data to Apple's servers.

The other problem related to privacy for this project can be that achieving its health ambitions could depend on consumers trusting Apple with sensitive data, underlining why privacy is a business imperative for the company.

What it all comes down to

Although there has been a lot of talk about it in the last period, the Apple project is not necessarily going to happen. We have seen: a lot depends on the issue of privacy, but not only that. Research projects are still in the early stages and may never lead to new device features. In any case, previous academic studies have shown some evidence that people with certain mental health conditions use their digital devices differently from others. It remains to be seen if reliable algorithms can be created to detect the conditions

article writer profileWritten by - Annarita Cantamessa