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Graham Ware
APPLE GEN INVASIVE
Apple has submitted a patent application
that raises some serious privacy and
ethical concerns.
The US Patent and Trademark Office lists
application 2023/0225659 as a
“biosensing device” built into Apple’s
earbuds to measure “biological signal
parameters from a user.”
APPLE FILING PATENTS THAT GO BEYOND…
2
WHICH BIOLOGICAL SIGNALS, YOU ASK?
3
• Electroencephalography (EEG). In other words, the aim is to
directly record the user’s brain waves from tiny sensors
positioned within the ear canal.
• Electromyography (EMG). This records muscle movements
and the information can be used to help understand facial
expressions and jaw movements related to emotion.
• Electrooculography (EOG) tracks eye movements,
particularly side-to-side.
• Electrocardiogram (ECG) typically measures the electrical
activity of the heart.
• Galvanic skin response (GSR), which provides an indirect
measure of emotional arousal – that is, the strength of an
emotional response.
• Blood volume pulse (BVP). This is measured using
photoplethysmography and provides information about
heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV).
4
4
4
In other words, the aim is to collect a very comprehensive set of neurological and biometric data from the user. Creepy, right?!
It’s unclear to me how you could even record meaningful data from within the ear for at least of few of these (e.g. EOG, ECG, GSR) but that clearly
isn’t going to stop them from trying.
In fairness, I don’t normally go around reading US patent applications, so maybe a large percentage of them are equally creepy – I can’t say. But this
one feels deeply unethical.
It’s not at all clear, for instance, whether user would be aware that these data were being acquired and sent to Apple every time they used their
earbuds. Even if their EULA mentioned the measurements, how many people would know what they mean or how they might be used?
APPLE GOING ALL IN…
5 ESSENTIAL PRINCIPALS FOR ETHICAL USE
OF NEUROTECHNOLOGY
5
1. Voluntary. Participants should not be forced or deceived into providing physiological or neurological data. Volunteers at liberty to stop at any
time.
2. Limited. Personal data may only be collected for a specific, explicit and legitimate purpose. This purpose must be clearly stated, and only
stored as long as needed to complete that purpose.
3. Transparent. Requires informed consent including being aware the data are being collected and knowing the risks involved, including
whether the information will be shared with other organizations.
4. Autonomy. Free from manipulation. Participants should not be forced or deceived into making decisions they would not otherwise make.
5. Valid. Must be based on valid science and led by scientifically trained staff.
To my mind, this application potentially violates 4 out of 5 of these principles (I don’t see any evidence of manipulation) and this makes me
deeply uneasy!
What are your thoughts on the ethical implications of such technologies? Would you be comfortable using this device or similar devices that
collected this information about you?
6
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH ME…

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Does Apple Neurotechnology Patents Go To Far?

  • 2. Apple has submitted a patent application that raises some serious privacy and ethical concerns. The US Patent and Trademark Office lists application 2023/0225659 as a “biosensing device” built into Apple’s earbuds to measure “biological signal parameters from a user.” APPLE FILING PATENTS THAT GO BEYOND… 2
  • 3. WHICH BIOLOGICAL SIGNALS, YOU ASK? 3 • Electroencephalography (EEG). In other words, the aim is to directly record the user’s brain waves from tiny sensors positioned within the ear canal. • Electromyography (EMG). This records muscle movements and the information can be used to help understand facial expressions and jaw movements related to emotion. • Electrooculography (EOG) tracks eye movements, particularly side-to-side. • Electrocardiogram (ECG) typically measures the electrical activity of the heart. • Galvanic skin response (GSR), which provides an indirect measure of emotional arousal – that is, the strength of an emotional response. • Blood volume pulse (BVP). This is measured using photoplethysmography and provides information about heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV).
  • 4. 4 4 4 In other words, the aim is to collect a very comprehensive set of neurological and biometric data from the user. Creepy, right?! It’s unclear to me how you could even record meaningful data from within the ear for at least of few of these (e.g. EOG, ECG, GSR) but that clearly isn’t going to stop them from trying. In fairness, I don’t normally go around reading US patent applications, so maybe a large percentage of them are equally creepy – I can’t say. But this one feels deeply unethical. It’s not at all clear, for instance, whether user would be aware that these data were being acquired and sent to Apple every time they used their earbuds. Even if their EULA mentioned the measurements, how many people would know what they mean or how they might be used? APPLE GOING ALL IN…
  • 5. 5 ESSENTIAL PRINCIPALS FOR ETHICAL USE OF NEUROTECHNOLOGY 5 1. Voluntary. Participants should not be forced or deceived into providing physiological or neurological data. Volunteers at liberty to stop at any time. 2. Limited. Personal data may only be collected for a specific, explicit and legitimate purpose. This purpose must be clearly stated, and only stored as long as needed to complete that purpose. 3. Transparent. Requires informed consent including being aware the data are being collected and knowing the risks involved, including whether the information will be shared with other organizations. 4. Autonomy. Free from manipulation. Participants should not be forced or deceived into making decisions they would not otherwise make. 5. Valid. Must be based on valid science and led by scientifically trained staff. To my mind, this application potentially violates 4 out of 5 of these principles (I don’t see any evidence of manipulation) and this makes me deeply uneasy! What are your thoughts on the ethical implications of such technologies? Would you be comfortable using this device or similar devices that collected this information about you?