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


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. Collection about neural activity in the brain—and inferences about what that brain activity means with respect to basic internal 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 or to analyze the productivity of factory employees.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will explore the privacy implications of such use of brain data, along with consumer attitudes, behavior and judgments about brain data and brain analytics. Specific questions the project team will explore are: What are the contextual privacy norms associated with the aggregation of brain analytics (e.g., is collecting data about a user’s preferences acceptable when it’s being sent to an advertising agency but not to an employer)? Are there differences among consumer EEG early adopters, nonusers of consumer EEG devices and neuroscience experts with regard to their perceptions of brain privacy?

To answer these questions, the team will construct and administer surveys to the general population, and work with consumer-based EEG companies, consumer purchasers of EEG devices and neuroscience experts. This project builds on the work of the 2017-18 team, which created a survey that gauges broad privacy concerns associated with the collection of EEG brain data and general attitudes about how brain data is unique compared to other forms of data that can be aggregated, such as GPS location and genetic information.

Anticipated Outcomes

Written and oral presentations of findings; publications; poster presentations at annual meeting of International Neuroethics Society or other venues

Student Opportunities

Students will gain first-hand research experience and go through the scientific method from start to finish. Students will start by conducting an in-depth literature review, designing the survey tool(s), creating an IRB protocol, communicating with varying populations to start the data collection process, analyzing the data and creating a research paper/presentation. Graduate students will play a leadership and mentoring role.

The team will meet weekly; students will take turns leading each session. Team members will be integrated into the Science, Law and Policy (SLAP) Lab, where they will learn about other research and have the opportunity to discuss their own project with a larger group, joining in the weekly SLAP Lab meetings. Beatrice Capestany will serve as project manager.

The team will likely comprise 4-5 students: one advanced graduate student, one new graduate student and three undergraduates. Graduate students should have a background in any field that conducts studies on human subjects. Undergraduates need not have specific experience. A background and interest in neuroscience would be helpful, as well as rudimentary knowledge about the research process and some form of statistical background (e.g., intro to stats course).


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: Begin to document existing literature and come up with survey methodology
  • Fall 2018: Refine methodology, create and submit IRB, begin to run survey
  • Spring 2019: Data collection, analysis, writing


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

See earlier related team, Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices and the Brain (2017-2018).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Beatrice Capestany, Science & Society*
Nita Farahany, Duke Law|Arts & Sciences-Philosophy*
Charles Giattino, Trinity - Psychology and Neuroscience-PHD*

* denotes team leader


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