Google has announced the launch of a new app, namely Google Health Studies to enable medical researchers to study and analyse health-related data provided by participants through surveys. The company said in a blog post that the Android app would first focus on respiratory illness in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the company, the new app provides a platform for researchers to reach a large and diverse population to better understand human health while providing the “public with greater opportunities to contribute to medical research." The Google Health Studies is available to download for free via Google Play Store, and its Apple App Store availability details remain unclear.
Interestingly, Apple had launched its own app, the Apple Research for medical research purposes, last year. Both the apps provided by Apple and Google hope to offer medical researchers a platform to gather health-related data in a secure manner. Notably, Google adds that its new app focuses on three principles - keeping information safe, treating it responsibly, and putting participants in control. Participants in the study will use the app to report any respiratory symptoms, the precautions they are taking to prevent disease, and whether they have been tested for COVID-19 or the flu. The information would be sent to researchers through “federated learning," - privacy technology that is said to keep a person’s data stored on the device, while allowing researchers to discover aggregate insights based on encrypted, combined updates from many devices. Google says that the same technology powers typing predictions on Gboard, without letting the company see what individuals are typing.
Introducing #GoogleHealthStudies—a new @Android app that makes it easy for adults in the U.S. to participate in health research. Contribute to the first study on respiratory health and make a difference in your community. https://t.co/mki6cFF6w7— Google (@Google) December 9, 2020
The blog post by Google further notes that participants will also be able to see what data is being contributed, and when and why it’s shared. To understand respiratory illnesses, including influenza and COVID-19, Google has partnered with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital for the first study. This Respiratory Health Study will be open to adults in the US.