Google is making a major push towards medical research with its new Health Studies app for Android users. Available today, the app allows you to sign up for research projects and safely contribute data, either via surveys or sensor readings. The first study, lead by Harvard Medical and the Boston Children's Hospital, focuses on respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and influenza.
Last year, Apple launched its own Research app for iPhone and Apple Watch users, which similarly focused on opening up health research to consumers. Both Apple and Google are solving some common issues: Medical researchers often have trouble collecting enough viable user data, and it's difficult for average consumers to contribute data.
"With COVID-19 emerging alongside seasonal respiratory pathogens, research is now needed more than ever to develop more effective treatments and mitigation strategies,” Dr. John Brownstein, professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief Innovation Officer of the Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “Google Health Studies provides people with a secure and easy way to take part in medical research, while letting researchers discover novel epidemiological insights into respiratory diseases.”
Given the potential sensitivity with health research, Google says the data you contribute is encrypted and stored securely on your device . You'll also be able to see exactly what you're contributing, and studies won't be able to access data beyond what you consent. Google also claims your research data won't shared or sold to advertisers, unlike most of its products. The app relies on federated learning and analytics to handle your data, which lets researchers gather aggregated and anonymized data from many devices at once.