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In a change to its data collection practices, Apple is now listing itself as a "secondary" researcher on two active ResearchKit studies, allowing the company to skim anonymized data in efforts to improve its health technology platform.
"We've learned a lot about the powerful role iPhone and Apple Watch can play in medical research and we know there's even more we can do," an Apple spokesperson said. "For certain ResearchKit studies, Apple will be listed as a researcher, receiving data from participants who consent to share their data, so we can participate with the larger research community in exploring how our technology could improve the way people manage their health."
Armed with the ResearchKit data, Apple hopes to build a better toolset for medical researchers looking to conduct health studies on the platform. The report said Apple selected Mole Mapper and mPower on the recommendation of engineering teams responsible for iPhone camera, touchscreen and motion sensor suite operation.
Aside from an immense install base, the iOS device ecosystem features an array of advanced sensing technologies attractive to medical researchers. With the right mix of hardware and software, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch can turn into veritable mobile laboratories.
As for privacy, Apple's new data gathering initiative is being rolled out on an opt-in basis. Study participants must authorize primary and secondary researchers separately, meaning users can choose to send information only to a given program's creators, and all data remains anonymized.
ResearchKit was introduced in 2015 as a developer tool granting medical researchers access to HealthKit data generated by hundreds of millions of devices. Since its launch, the backend framework has expanded to include new data capture capabilities presented through the Apple Watch platform, specifically heart rate monitoring and constant motion sensing.