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Researchers are rethinking plans to use the Apple Watch in studies after finding inconsistencies in the data gathered by the device (via The Verge).

apple-watch-series-6-product-red-back.jpg

Inconsistencies in the Apple Watch's heart rate variability data are reportedly caused by Apple tweaking the device's algorithms, meaning that data from the same time period can change without warning. Associate professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and developer of the Beiwe data platform, J.P. Onnela, told The Verge:
These algorithms are what we would call black boxes — they're not transparent. So it's impossible to know what's in them.

Research fellows at Brigham and Women's Hospital exported the heart rate data from Apple Watches for the same period of time, but several months apart. The data should have been identical, but since it is filtered through an algorithm prior to export it was drastically different.

Apple changes its algorithms regularly and without warning, so exporting the same data at different times may use different algorithms. Beyond heart rate variability, researchers looking into sleep tracking have experienced similar problems with changes to algorithms.

This mostly precludes commercial devices from being used by researchers, resulting in the need for devices specifically designed to collect data for scientific studies. While this is adequate for some studies, it heavily constrains research into the medical value of commercially available products for users. Some researchers say that Apple should publicize the changes it makes to algorithms or make the Apple Watch's raw data available.

Article Link: Researchers Struggle to Use Apple Watch in Studies Due to Sudden Algorithm Changes
 

csfossett

macrumors newbie
Feb 10, 2020
8
52
I have to admit I find this incredibly disconcerting. I get that companies like Apple are commercially driven, and algorithms tend to be in service to that, but they're also touting the Apple Watch as a major healthcare related device. Shouldn't medical/biological diagnoses and research be driven purely by data and information, and not by what amounts to programming developed to interpret data in advance of receiving it?
 
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Alfredo_Delgado

macrumors newbie
Nov 11, 2016
21
98
Boca Raton, FL
I'm going to guess Apple didn't make the raw data available to avoid this very case where different applications could interpret the data differently. That at least reduces the number of culprits responsible for sketchy data interpretation to just Apple.

I wonder if they could put something in the EULA to make raw data available for scientific studies along with a vanilla sample algorithm for consuming it. Any studies could then publish the algorithm they settled on -- whether baseline or tweaked -- along with their raw data.
 
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sw1tcher

macrumors 68020
Jan 6, 2004
2,413
4,730
Research fellows at Brigham and Women's Hospital exported the heart rate data from Apple Watches for the same period of time, but several months apart. The data should have been identical, but since it is filtered through an algorithm prior to export it was drastically different.
I'll call this a built-in feature. Since the data changes each time it's exported, it makes it harder for them to track you. This is Apple putting privacy above accuracy. 🤣
 
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Malus120

macrumors 6502
Jun 28, 2002
376
637
This is so incredibly disappointing, and yet also so undeniably Apple.

It's both funny and sad that one of the few aspects of Steve Jobs Apple that Tim Cook has chosen not to change, the company's intense secrecy, continues to be its downfall in so many current and potential markets.

Apple is fortunate to be the only real player in the wearables market at the moment. Despite the complaints, I would imagine most researchers will continue to work with Apple for the time being as they're the only game in town. That said, just as in the pro and corporate markets, Apple will eventually struggle to retain research clients in the long run if it continues to cling to its asinine refusal to provide even a basic level of transparency.

If Apple wants to expand outside of the consumer market in a serious way it needs to understand that secrecy is not the asset it is there but a serious liability that many folks just aren't going to be willing or able to deal with.
 
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nt5672

macrumors 68020
Jun 30, 2007
2,361
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More arrogance from Apple. They seem to think they know everything better than everyone else. Of course, since this hit the media, maybe Apple will will consider making the raw data available as it should have been in the first place.

Of course, this also fits with Apple's attitude that it is not true unless Apple says it's true.
 
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rjohnstone

macrumors 68040
Dec 28, 2007
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PHX, AZ.
Welcome to working with data. Getting and pre-processing data to improve quality uses upward of 70% of the project time. Data is constantly changing due to legal or technical issues or to make it better for users other than you. Any study based on data needs to be able to handle these changes.
In order for a study to account for the changes, it needs to know what was changed. It would need the raw data or the algorithms to compare, so they can account for those changes.
Since Apple doesn't provide that information, the data collected is largely useless.
 
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Pezimak

macrumors regular
May 1, 2021
233
200
If this is true then I would question the authenticity of the approval the medical associations around the globe have awarded the device. Many do use their Apple watches to keep an eye on heart related issues but I bet they do not know Apple is potentially changing their recorded data at will, without warning.

Apple needs to be careful with the way it advertises its health sensors, and it’s health programmes that it tends to present as being very proud off. It does give an impression of reliable health data is being presented, which this article seems to prove otherwise.
 
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dsdevries

macrumors regular
Aug 13, 2009
128
60
I found the resting heart rate and heart rate variability data from the Apple Watch quite useless too. As an athlete, it's quite important that these measurements are taken every morning right after you wake up, or just before. However, I also found that Apple changed this behaviour multiple times. At one point, the measurements were taken while I was already under the shower, or even when I was already on my bicycle. Utterly useless, so I switched back to Elite HRV with a heart rate strap.
 
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deadlock

macrumors member
Oct 29, 2003
36
7
London, UK
Are these medical studies that Apple has advertised themselves that they are supporting, or ones that are trying to use data exports to do a studied but not officially partnered?

If the former then that is worrying as I’d expect Apple to be giving them the raw data and access to the algorithms (possibly under NDA).

if it’s the latter then why haven’t they partnered officially?
 
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Khedron

Suspended
Sep 27, 2013
2,561
5,733
Are these medical studies that Apple has advertised themselves that they are supporting, or ones that are trying to use data exports to do a studied but not officially partnered?

If the former then that is worrying as I’d expect Apple to be giving them the raw data and access to the algorithms (possibly under NDA).

if it’s the latter then why haven’t they partnered officially?

Apple make it possible to share your data with your doctor. Does every watch owner now need to partner with Apple to get access to the ‘real’ data?
 
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