Apple is working with researchers to determine whether data collected on its devices could be used to diagnose autism, depression, anxiety and mild cognitive impairment, according to documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
The research has the potential to significantly expand the scope of Apple's diagnostic capabilities. But the privacy implications of having a company like Apple scanning for these health related issues aren't trivial, and immediately spurred criticism from some privacy advocates, following the Journal's reporting. The Journal's sources emphasized, however, that the projects are still in the early stages and might not yield new product features.
Apple is working with UCLA on the studies related to stress, depression and anxiety. The study will use iPhones and Apple Watches to collect data that could include users' movement, vital signs, sleep patterns, facial expressions, speech patterns, walk frequency and pace, typing frequency and typo frequency. The data could then be analyzed and compared against participants' questionnaire responses and the amount of stress hormone present in their hair follicles. If there turns out to be a correlation, Apple could alert those at risk of having certain mental health conditions and advise them to seek treatment, according to the Wall Street Journal sources.
Similarly, Apple and Duke hope to use iPhone cameras to observe children's movements and detect autism. And Biogen reportedly launched its study on Monday to determine whether Apple device metrics could assess older adults' cognitive decline, which can be indicative of early-stage Alzheimer's. The company received FDA approval earlier this year for an early-stage Alzheimer's drug that costs around $56,000 annually.Tim Cook has stated that Apple's greatest contribution to mankind will be in health. Apple outlined a plan in 2016 to become a primary-care medical provider, the Wall Street Journal reported based on documents and sources familiar with the matter. The report suggests that Apple's goal would be to change the "break fix" model of healthcare in the U.S., whereby people only visit physicians when something goes wrong.