Data collection

Distributing smartphones to real people as part of our research involves collecting information from each phone, which sometimes involves information considered as private. Thus, it is critical for us to make sure that each participant understands what data is collected and how it is used. Here, we give an overview, and then explain what information we collect and why in more detail.

Data Collection Overview

  • Protecting participants is our priority: mQoL is a participatory testbed and a living lab; this means that without participants like you, mQoL cannot exist. Because of this reason, from the inception of mQoL, we have been considering participant protection as one of the priorities in our decision making process.
  • Our operation of mQoL will be transparent: This means that at any point of time, if a participant wants to know what information has been collected, how it is used, or even where it is stored, we will provide the answers to the participant.
  • Research studies require university ethics committee approval: Getting ethics approval is common in the fields of medicines and psychology, where research studies involve human subjects. The approval process requires each experiment to be reviewed by a group of experts to ensure that the experiment protects the rights of the participants and is safe. Each of the mQoL research experiments requires such an approval as part of our protection mechanism for participants. The studies conducted in Geneva/Copenhagen have been approved by the ethics committee, i.e., Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Research Regulatory Compliance Office at Carnegie Mellon University (USA), as well as by the Administrative Panel on Human Subjects in Medical Research at Stanford University (USA), with which the QoL team collaborates.

Types of Information Collected in mQoL

We collect information from your phone for the following purposes, and the types of information we collect depend on each purpose.

  • Phone Status: We will periodically check if the phone is ON and operating properly since knowing the ‘health’ of each smartphone is obviously crucial for our operation. In case of erroneous operation we may email you with instructions to install an app, reboot your phone and/or connect to WiFi for synchronization.
  • Phone location: We will periodically record where the phone is based on its operator’s cellID and WiFi information. We will use this information strictly for our operational reasons, including the location of the smartphone when it is lost or stolen. We will not release this information to anybody outside of the QoL team.
  • Phone battery level: As mentioned above, each smartphone runs our applications (i.e., software). Thus, it is important to minimize any potentially disruption that our software might cause for your normal smartphone usage. For this purpose, we will monitor the battery level of your smartphone to avoid performing any task that can potential drain much battery. Actually, our applications and services are instructed to deactivate themselves (i.e., ‘sleep’) once your battery level reaches 20% or below. The applications and services become activate again once the phone charging begins.
  • Application logs: Each smartphone app usually generates information (called logs) for trouble shooting. As part of our effort to ensure that each smartphone operates properly, we will collect these logs and use them for trouble shooting.
  • Network performance: As part if our ongoing Swiss NSF MIQmodel project, in the mQoL study we test the performance of whichever network you are connected to: WiFi, 2.5G, 3G or 4G, i.e., we do not ask you to be connected to a given network at a given time.

Research Studies

The second purpose of collecting your smartphone information is to conduct research. Since mQoL is a living lab that researchers from QoL team can conduct their research with, we cannot foresee all information that future research will need to collect. Due to this reason, we will communicate with you regarding what information each experiment will collect and ask your explicit permission per each experiment. Before you agree to participate in an experiment, you will have an opportunity to review it and decline your participation if you are not comfortable with the information collected by the experiment. Below we present in a generic way two most common methods we use in our research.

Qualitative Data Collected in Our Research Studies

  • Daily Surveys: Experience Sampling Method (ESM): Usually our research questions relate to some phenomenon of your daily life activities. To gather your instantaneous opinions about that phenomenon, in a minimally obtrusive for you way, we employ the ESM method. In practice it means that you will have to answer a short survey automatically appearing on the screen of your smartphone along the day. The survey will appear at random, or at given times, depending on the phenomenon we study. The survey will have some questions specific to our research questions. The completion of survey will take maximum 30 seconds of your time. Our experiments constitute of no more than 8-12 surveys in total being requested per a day – in your waking hours (e.g., 8-22h, to be adjusted for your preferences). [Scientific reference for the ESM method: Hektner J., Schmidt J., Csikszentmihalyi M., Experience sampling method: Measuring the quality of everyday life. In Sage Pubs Inc., 2006. DOI]
  • Interviews: Day Reconstruction Method (DRM): You will be asked to meet us face-to-face on a regular basis, for example once a week for a 4-week research study. We will interview you for a ground truth about the phenomenon of your daily life activities, as an object of our studies. This information will be compared to the data automatically logged on the phone. You will particularly be asked to complete a diary of the previous 24-hour period wherein you will record the phenomenon of your daily life activities, as studies by us. It is called the Day Reconstruction Method and it breaks the day into episodes described by activities, locations and time intervals, and the smartphone usage during these times. During the interview, you will explain to us, in more detail, the factors influencing your ESM answers from the last 24 hours. This way, we can identify causalities and relations between your smartphone usage, your context and the phenomena we study. Additionally, we can identify any inconsistencies in the data logged automatically on the phone and ESMs. [Scientific reference for the DRM: Kahneman D., Krueger A., Schkade D., Schwarz N., and Stone A., A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method, Science, 2006: 306(5702), pp. 1776-1780. DOI]