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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

The Digital Phenotype: a Philosophical and Ethical Exploration. New paper by Michele Loi


The concept of the digital phenotype has been used to refer to digital data prognostic or diagnostic of disease conditions. Medical conditions may be inferred from the time pattern in an insomniac’s tweets, the Facebook posts of a depressed individual, or the web searches of a hypochondriac. This paper conceptualizes digital data as an extended phenotype of humans, that is as digital information produced by humans and affecting human behavior and culture. It argues that there are ethical obligations to persons affected by generalizable knowledge of a digital phenotype, not only those who are personally identifiable or involved in data generation. This claim is illustrated by considering the health-related digital phenotypes of precision medicine and digital epidemiology.