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This App Tells You — and Maybe Someone Else — When You’re Depressed

This App Tells You — and Maybe Someone Else — When You’re Depressed

Bloomberg Technology

A Facebook message pops up on my phone screen. “What’s going on in your world?”

It’s from a robot named Woebot, the brainchild of Stanford University psychologist Alison Darcy.

Woebot seems to care about me. The app asks me for a list of my strengths, and remembers my response so it can encourage me later. It helps me set a goal for the week -- being more productive at work. It asks me about my moods and my energy levels and makes charts of them.

“I’ll help you recognize patterns because ... (no offense) humans aren’t great at that,” Woebot tells me with a smirking smile emoji.

So Woebot knows that I felt anxious on Wednesday and happy on Thursday. But who else might know? Unlike a pedometer, which tracks something as impersonal as footsteps, many mental-health apps in development rely on gathering and analyzing information about a user’s intimate feelings and social life.

“Mental-health data is some of the most intimate data there can be,” said Adam Tanner, a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

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