Apple Offers iPhone Data For Medical Research

John Lister's picture

Apple is making its technology available to medical researchers to conduct mass studies. Participation is entirely voluntary, and the company insists user privacy will be protected.

The technology is called ResearchKit, and it's a set of tools available to researchers to make use of data gathered by smartphones that could relate to health and medicine. As well as collecting data from Apple products such as the iPhone, ResearchKit will be able to use data from fitness gadgets from other firms such as Fitbit.

Using ResearchKit, researchers will be able to develop iPhone apps, even if they don't have specialist knowledge. They'll then be able to appeal for study participants, who will simply have to install the app. The new program is a follow-on to the Healthkit framework, which provides fitness tracking tools in Apple Gadgets, including the iPhone and the new Apple Watch. The framework is designed for users to get information about certain factors, such as how long they are active each day, or how many steps they take.

Sensors And Surveys Both Key To Research

Researchers can then gather data in two ways. The first is through the various sensor built into a phone, such as the accelerometer and GPS for tracking movement. Apple believes researchers will find creative ways to use the phone, pointing to an app that researches Parkinson's Disease by sensing whether the user's finger is tremoring while using the touchscreen. (Source:

The second way of gathering data will be through brief questionnaires about activity and health, such as diet or whether the user feels tired. Apple believes this can let researchers spread questions out and pose them at appropriate times, rather than rely on paper surveys which often barrage study participants with questions in one go and rely on often-faulty memories.

Studies Could Have Millions Of Participants

The idea is that having access to the entire iPhone customer base will make it much easier for researchers to gather large test groups to make for more reliable studies. Of course, one drawback is that iPhone users aren't necessarily representative of the general populations: surveys consistently suggest they are more likely to be richer and younger than the average citizen.

According to Apple, those users who choose to take part in a study won't be giving up privacy. Apple itself will not see the data that is collected and passed on. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Would you be happy to take part in studies that use your phone? Would you only want to respond to questions or would you allow sensor data to be passed on to researchers as well? Can you see any drawbacks to researchers collecting data in this way?

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philipreeves46's picture

I am a wanna-be scientist of sorts. It's something I've always been interested in, but lacked the math foundation to make it real. I am a participant in the search for alien extraterrestial intelligence lending my idle computer time to analyse data from SETI and other projects to help the scientists I wish I could have been. I think it's a fantastic idea. I would participate, if I could afford an iPhone.