If you have a smartphone, you may have noticed that every time you install an app it asks for “permissions.” An app may ask to use your camera, or to connect to your Facebook account. It may ask to use your location or to access your contact list or to connect to the internet. There’s a nearly endless list of “permissions” an app may need in order to work properly. And with each “permission” you give to an app, it can gather data—data that can be collected and sent to faceless corporations or sold on the open market.
Your phone can access your email account and log your emails. It can monitor your Facebook account. It can log every key you press on the keyboard, every phone number you call. Anything you do through your phone can be noted and recorded. Now Big Medicine and Big Pharma want to harness the power of the cell phone to monitor you twenty-four hours per day…and the level they want to take this monitoring to is chilling.
The all-seeing eye of Big Pharma wants to watch you
I’m talking about an app called LifeRhythm. You won’t find it on Google Play or Apple’s App Store…yet. But make no mistake—we WILL see it sometime soon. The possibilities for Big Medicine, Big Pharma and Big Data are just too good for them to pass up. It was created by the University of Connecticut, and it gathers every conceivable piece of information anyone could possibly want about you.
It tracks your location literally step by step. It logs where you go, how often, and how far from home you are. It clocks the speed you’re walking and even tracks your motion using your phone’s gyro sensor and accelerometer. It knows if you stand up, sit down, or lie down. It tracks how often you text and monitors your other “social interactions” done through your phone. It even listens in on your phone calls and analyzes your tone of voice, how loudly you speak, how often the conversation pauses, and more.
Why does it need all this information? To monitor you for depression.
The creators of the app, of course, put a positive spin on it. They say it will eliminate the need for depressed patients to fill out questionnaires about how they’re feeling. They even claim it will give more truthful and accurate answers than questionnaires do. And they say this constant real-time monitoring could help clinicians perform “interventions” like texting “go for a walk” to someone they feel has been staying in the house too much.
That’s just creepy.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I find the whole idea unsettling. The sheer invasion of privacy is appalling. I can see this going in a really bad direction—especially in light of other new invasive moves by Big Pharma like the so-called “smart pill.”. And here’s the really scary part: the app creators themselves suggest that I just might be right.
Why it’s scary: This isn’t a treatment tool, it’s a SCREENING tool
Here’s what really bothers me about this idea: the researchers behind this app aren’t touting it as a tool for treating depression. They’re talking about it as a tool to screen for depression. Take a moment and let that sink in. Because how do you “screen for” a condition? You test people who are “at risk.” And who’s “at risk” for depression?
Every single person on the planet.
The app creators say that one of “the most crucial issues for mental health workers is detecting [depression] in its early stages.” They go on to say that if this app were “widely adopted,” it would “revolutionize how depression is diagnosed.”
How depression is diagnosed. Not treated. Not managed. It all comes down to this: the researchers would like to see this app on everyone’s phone. They’d like to see it monitoring all of us, all the time, in order to “catch depression in its early stages.”
You can bet Big Pharma and Big Medicine will be all over this idea. It’s a chance to take away a little more of our control over our health. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get more of us on more drugs. And if done openly, it’s a way to manipulate us all into being more dependent by using fear tactics.
But there’s another option besides openly asking us to download this app. Google—the power behind all Android phones—is already dipping its toes into the medical world in other ways. We might just find this app or something like it bundled into an upcoming version of the Android operating system. And we might never even know it’s there.
This little "gem" of a program could be preinstalled on our phones before we ever buy them. It could be loaded via an update. It could be quietly running in the background without our knowledge,monitoring our every step and conversation. It could stealthily store up information and pass it on so that someone can contact us and "intervene."
And here’s something even more unsettling: the University of Connecticut isn’t the only place that’s created an app like this. There are actually several apps of this type in development at different universities. One way or another, whether openly or secretly, something like this is coming to our phones soon. So what can you do?
- If you’re willing to forego their convenience, you can simply opt to not have a smartphone. The day is coming where this might be a real liability, but today it’s still an option.
- If you do have a smart phone, pay attention when you download apps. Every time you install something you’re asked for permissions. Pay attention to what permissions an app asks for. Read them all thoroughly rather than simply clicking “ok.” And if an app wants access to every bell, whistle and gadget your phone possesses, don’t install it.
And if you think you may be depressed, do seek help. But don’t assume that “help” has to mean drugs—research shows that talk therapy can be more effective than Big Pharma’s pills and without the physical side effects.