Conceptualising and regulating all neural data from consumer-directed devices as medical data: more scope for an unnecessary expansion of medical influence?

Ethics and Information Technology 25 (4):1-8 (2023)
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Abstract

Neurodevices that collect neural (or brain activity) data have been characterised as having the ability to register the inner workings of human mentality. There are concerns that the proliferation of such devices in the consumer-directed realm may result in the mass processing and commercialisation of neural data (as has been the case with social media data) and even threaten the mental privacy of individuals. To prevent this, some argue that all raw neural data should be conceptualised and regulated as “medical data” even if it is collected from consumer-directed devices in obviously non-clinical settings. In this paper, we argue that without a clearer formulation of what does and does not count as medical data, this approach might also uncritically enlarge the scope for medical influence and an unwarranted medicalisation of everyday aspects of mental life. Indeed, if we were to accept the position that all neural data is medical data because it offers insights into personally sensitive information (such a person’s thoughts, emotions, or intentions) then this could even unnecessarily expand the boundaries of medical data to other forms of data that otherwise seem to be non-clinical. If all brain data (neural activity data) is considered to be medical data even when collected from consumer-directed devices then we might unintentionally reduce meaningful distinctions between what is and what is not rightfully in the purview of medicine.

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