Balancing self-tracking and surveillance: Legal, ethical and technological issues in using smartphones to monitor communication in people with health conditions

Jacki Liddle, Mark Burdon, David Ireland, Adrian Carter, Christina Knuepffer, Nastassja Milevskiy, Simon McBride, Helen Chenery, Wayne Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Smartphones are being used to track the health of individuals in their own environments. For example, a smartphone app could be used to monitor the impact and progression of Parkinson’s disease, as well as indicate whether treatments may need to be adjusted, based on an analysis of voice and discourse. The app uses smartphone audio sensors to detect when conversations are taking place and activates an app to record the conversation. But what happens if a background conversation is also collected by the recording? The participants of the background conversation are unaware of and have not consented to the recording. Unauthorised recording could also raise legal issues under surveillance devices legislation and has ethical implications. It is a complex task to balance the potential benefits of self-tracking of health conditions to consumers and the health system, with the legalities and ethical issues related to privacy. The health-related monitoring industry is moving so rapidly that current legal and ethical processes and protocols may fail to balance these concerns. This article explores Australian legal and ethical perspectives on how to achieve the potential benefits of these technological approaches while preserving privacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-397
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Law and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

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