Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices and the Brain (2017-2018)


Consumer electroencephalogram (EEG) devices are marketed and sold to consumers for tracking and improving their brain activity through neurofeedback. These devices raise unique concerns about data gathering and sharing practices because of their unprecedented ability to gather real-time brain activity in everyday contexts such as education, employment, gaming and fitness.

We are living in a society replete with widespread data collection about individuals. Already, collection about neural activity in the brain—and inferences about what that brain activity means with respect to basic emotional and physical states—is possible. Consumer-based EEG devices have already been deployed by the military, by sports teams, to detect drowsiness while driving and to analyze the productivity of factory employees.

While we are not yet at the point where wearing a consumer EEG device is like walking around with visible thought bubbles above our head, the possibility of widespread adoption of wearable technology including EEG devices could lead to unprecedented access to basic neural activity. This Bass Connections project seeks to explore the privacy implications of such use.

Project Description

This project will explore consumer attitudes, perceptions, behavior and judgment about consumer-based EEG devices.

The project team will explore three specific questions:

  1. Do consumers vary in their expectations of privacy and willingness to share brain information with government, corporations, employers, researchers and others?
  2. Are there differences between consumer users and nonusers of consumer EEG devices with regard to their perceptions, behaviors and attitudes about brain privacy and EEG devices?
  3. Do differences in perceptions and attitudes about brain privacy help to explain differences in use and behavior of consumer EEG devices?

The team will construct and administer surveys to the general population, and, working with consumer EEG companies, consumer purchasers of commercial EEG devices. With IRB approval, team members will recruit subjects through links sent out to consumers of major consumer EEG device companies and through Amazon MTurk Prime.

These surveys will build on two surveys that looked at consumer use and understanding of consumer EEG devices. This team will attempt to clarify consumers’ expectations of brain privacy vis-à-vis different institutional and noninstitutional actors—government entities, corporations, employers, researchers, physicians and personal connections.

Assuming a meaningful effect size is seen in differences in attitudes of sharing with these different actors, team members will then seek to understand what drives the differences in trust by formulating questionnaires and administering them through programming web surveys. The team will analyze the survey results and develop written and oral presentations of the findings.

Anticipated Outcomes

Surveys, papers, poster presentations, oral presentations (within Science & Society and externally, most likely at the annual meeting of the International Neuroethics Society meeting and other venues)


Fall 2017 – Fall 2018

  • Fall 2017: Development of questionnaires for users and the general public concerning EEG and privacy; first round of online data collection
  • Spring 2018: Analysis of data and identification of topics for further research; public poster presentation of preliminary data at International Neuroethics Society Meeting
  • Summer and Fall 2018: Write up results into papers and presentations
  • Fall 2018: First paper submissions

Team Outcomes to Date

Consumer Concerns with the Privacy of Data Collected from Brain Wearables (poster by Beatrice Capestany, Elish Mahajan, Lydia Kwong, Nita Farahany), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

This Team in the News

New Bass Connections Project Explores Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices, and the Brain

See related team, Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices and the Brain (2018-2019)

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Beatrice Capestany, Science & Society
Nita Farahany, Duke Law|Arts & Sciences-Philosophy*
Marty Woldorff, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Graduate Team Members

Stephanie Santistevan, Psychology-PHD

Undergraduate Team Members

Elish Mahajan, Biology (BS)
Yu Jin Oh, Int Comparative Studies (AB), Psychology (AB2)

* denotes team leader