Do Groups Have Moral Standing in Unregulated mHealth Research?

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 48 (S1):122-128 (2020)
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Biomedical research using data from participants’ mobile devices borrows heavily from the ethos of the “citizen science” movement, by delegating data collection and transmission to its volunteer subjects. This engagement gives volunteers the opportunity to feel like partners in the research and retain a reassuring sense of control over their participation. These virtues, in turn, give both grass-roots citizen science initiatives and institutionally sponsored mHealth studies appealing features to flag in recruiting participants from the public. But while grass-roots citizen science projects are often community-based, mHealth research ultimately depends on the individuals who own and use mobile devices. This inflects the ethos of mHealth research towards a celebration of individual autonomy and empowerment, at the expense of its implications for the communities or groups to which its individual participants belong. But the prospects of group harms — and benefits — from mHealth research are as vivid as they are in other forms of data-intensive “precision health” research, and will be important to consider in the design of any studies using this approach.



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