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

Background

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)

Student Opportunities

Team members will meet with Science & Society’s broader Science, Law & Policy Lab team on a weekly basis. The SLAP Lab model is to treat all members as equal researchers and authors of publications.

Students will learn about other projects being undertaken by SLAP Lab and have the opportunity to become engaged in them. They will learn about cutting-edge technological advances designed for consumers in neuroscience, as well as the ethical, legal and social implications of that research. Before undertaking study design, implementation and analysis, students will be trained in the methodologies employed, including statistical methods necessary to analyze the survey results.

Graduate students will have the opportunity to lead modules of the project, and learn project management and collaboration in their mini-teams on each subcomponent we undertake. The modules will meet more frequently, while the entire team will meet on a weekly basis.

The team will ideally include two postdocs, three graduate/professional students (neuroscience/psychology, bioethics and science policy, law) and four undergraduate students with interests in psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, bioethics and science policy, public policy, law or other related disciplines.

Students will be required to demonstrate substantial research and/or contributions toward study design, implementation, analysis and authorship of papers and presentations resulting from the studies conducted.

Timing

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

Crediting

Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

This Team in the News

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

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Beatrice Capestany, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
Rosa Castro, Duke Initiative for Science & Society
Nita Farahany, Law; Trinity - Philosophy; Duke Initiative for Science & Society*
Marty Woldorff, School of Medicine - Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Trinity - Psychiatry & Neuroscience

* denotes team leader

Status

Active