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European Research Council awards TILT researchers grant to develop safer mental health apps

Published: 08th February 2022 Last updated: 08th February 2022

The European Research Council has awarded a so-called Proof of Concept Grant worth 150,000 euros to Prof. Linnet Taylor and Dr. Tineke Broer in order to develop a new rating system for app safety. Focusing on mental health apps, they aim to create a new rating index for app safety that reflects app users’ concerns about how their data are used by others.

2022 may see the start of some changes for the app economy: public debate around pandemic-related apps, along with revelations about how Facebook and Instagram affect teenagers’ mental health, have shown that ‘app safety’ is treated as a very narrow concept by app developers and stores, according to Linnet Taylor.

Health apps

This new project will focus specifically on mental health apps and will ask users what makes them feel safe or unsafe when data about their behaviour and mental state is handled by others. Are app users aware of how apps currently share and sell their mental health data? And if not, what should the rules be? Taylor and Broer will use people’s responses to create a new rating index for app safety that reflects people’s subjective concerns, and will test how it can be applied in our current rating systems.

Affective safety

Their goal is to build an automated rating system prototype for ‘affective safety’, while also demonstrating the limitations of what cannot be automated. The project’s broader aim is to inform the work of standard-setting bodies, patients’ collectives, and regulators, and to raise questions about other groups for whom apps may create vulnerabilities such as children, the elderly and users of other health-related apps.

This project is based on the work of the Global Data Justice ERC project, currently underway at TILT, and will be conducted in collaboration with the ‘Digital Good’ ERC project underway at Radboud University’s Interdisciplinary Hub for Digitalization and Society, led by Prof. Tamar Sharon.

ERC funding

Proof of Concept Grant is one of 166 grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). This top-up funding for ERC projects will help the researchers bridge the gap between the results of their pioneering research and the early phases of its commercialisation. The grants are part of the EU's research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe. Across the board, in 2021, 348 Proof of Concept proposals were evaluated, with an overall success rate of 48%.

For more information see the ERC’s press release.