An announcement was made on Wednesday that a new research app will be launched by Google that will allow any person possessing a device to participate in medical studies. Respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19 will be looked at by Google Health Studies, the very first study run through the app.
Any respiratory symptoms will be reported by the participants in the study using the app, following what precautions have been taken for the free nation of the disease and whether they have tested positive for COVID-19 or the flu. Demographic data such as age, gender, and race will also be collected by the app. Google further mentioned in a press release, “Researchers in this study can examine trends to understand the link between mobility (such as the number of daily trips a person makes outside the home) and the spread of COVID-19.”
A technique called federated learning will be used by the app to send data to researchers that will batch aggregated trends from various devices, rather than pull information from each participant individually.
Google’s answer to Apple’s Research app (running on iOS) is Health Studies. Studies on menstrual cycles, mobility and heart health, and hearing were launched by it last year. Researchers are also permitted to create their own iPhone apps by Apple through its ResearchKit program.
The app conducting studies will come with the same caveats as research from other commercial wearable products: only those purchasing products like an Android phone are eligible to enrol. Researchers cannot take a granular look at information due to the aggregated data, even though it ensures privacy protection.
A great advantage for Google Health Studies is that android phone users have a lower median income than iPhone users. A chief innovation officer of Boston Children’s Hospital working on the study with Google, John Brownstein, informed Stat News that “Android represents probably a more diverse dataset [than iPhone]. We’re pretty excited about the ability to leverage that.”