A Google app to measure the impact of smartphones on mental health

Google announces that it is partnering with the University of Oregon’s Center for Digital Mental Health to conduct a study into the mental health of smartphone users.

Are we completely safe when using a smartphone? That’s a question Google hopes to answer as it continues its research into digital wellbeing and is now partnering with the University of Oregon to better understand consumers’ real habits when it comes to using their mobile phones.

A study conducted through a Google application

To achieve this, the University of Oregon will use the Google Health Studies app here. This study aims to provide results by relating actual smartphone use to determine what impact this may have on their overall well-being. In a blog post, one of the main researchers of this project points out that the end goal of this study will be to offer products that are better adapted to current consumption habits, but also to be able to shape future usage policies. The Google app gives searchers much more accurate results than simply asking people to describe their own day-to-day usage. They hope to take a much more detailed approach to making previously unobservable connections, such as the link between your screen time and sleep, or the link between your usage and physical activity.

It is also intended to recruit as many people as possible for this study, although reducing participant participation must contribute to broader participation in order to obtain a truly meaningful sample. It will also allow researchers to collect data on understudied or younger populations. These much more objective measurements, collected by passively and continuously measuring participant usage, are also correlated with other data that may also be collected. For example, if you use a connected watch in addition to your smartphone, it is also possible to share this data for more details.

ethical work

According to Google spokesman Iz Conroy, the system the company is using to conduct this study shares some common APIs with Android’s digital well-being system. However, it assures us that the data collected (e.g. how many times the user unlocks their smartphone or the categories of applications used) are collected separately according to transparent protocols. Informed consent is obtained from each study participant for the management and use of the data, and Google ensures that it is never sold for advertising purposes.

The Google Health Studies application, launched in 2020, was originally intended to allow participants to contribute to studies by making their data available to researchers without having to disclose their personal information. The study in question will start on May 27th and will last 4 weeks. However, it doesn’t seem to be available in France.

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