FAQ

Who is participating?

We recruited 400 Tier 1 and 100 Tier 2 Notre Dame students in 2015, and an additional 200 students in 2016.


What do I need to do to participate?

We are no longer accepting new persons into the study.  .


What should I do if I am having a problem and need assistance?

You can always contact us at nethealth@nd.edu and someone will respond.  Please put in the subject line of your email your netid and a brief description of the problem (e.g., broken Fitbit, app will not install).  Then in the email tell us what the specific problem is, when it occurs, what you have done to try and solve the problem, and provide us with any relevant information (e.g., a screen shot).


How does the study measure sleep and activity patterns?

All  participants received for free a Fitbit Charge HR, a state-of-the-art fitness and sleep activity tracker that goes on their wrist. They are asked to wear the Fitbit as much of the time as possible. More information on the Fitbit Charge HR can be found at Fitbit’s website here, and also on this website here.


How will the study measure a person’s social network?

We measure people’s social network in a number of ways that involve logging information on communication activity the our participants have with other people via text, voice calls, email and Facebook. Participants install a monitoring application on their smartphone (iPhone or Android type phone). This application gathers information on who people communicate with but not the content of their communications.  iPhone users are  asked to periodically backup their iPhone to a computer using iTunes. These backups contain logs of text messages which we use to ascertain with whom you have communicated.


What are the responsibilities and obligations of a study participant?

  • Wear the Fitbit Charge HR that you received from the study while both awake and asleep.  Data collected from the activity tracker includes physical movement (steps, stairs, distance) and heart rate.  This will allow us to measure calorie burn rates, physical activity levels, and sleep levels and patterns. Participants are responsible for the device that has been provided to them. If it is lost or broken, you will need to purchase at a subsidized cost another device at $50 in order to stay in the study.  Subsequent devices that are lost will require purchase at the full price ($150).  Device issues from normal wear and tear will be replaced at no charge to you as the participant.
  • Install an application on your smart phone, other smart devices such as tablets if you have them, and on your personal computer if you have one.  This app will capture information about how you are using the device and whom you are communicating with, but never any information on the content of your telephone calls, emails, text messages or other forms of communication.  Running this app in the background on a device will not significantly affect the operation of the device or decrease battery life.  It is critical to emphasize that we do not capture content but rather are only interested in whom you are interacting with / how you are generally using the device (ex. when do you use a smartphone versus a tablet versus your laptop or desktop).
  • Configure your phone and personal computer to periodically backup communication log data from your phone to your personal computer. This information will then be transferred to our secure servers after deleting any information pertaining to the content of text messages.  For Android users, this will be done automatically via the application (agent) running on your device.  For iPhone users, we will need you to physically plug in your device every week.
  • Complete two (2) online surveys every 3-4 months. The surveys will take between 20-30 minutes. One questionnaire will deal with your attitudes, tastes and behaviors. The other survey will deal with who is in your social network.
  • From time to time, answer short questions that we will push to your smartphone about your tastes, attitudes, moods and activities.
  •  “Friend” us on Facebook (there is a unique FB NetHealth Project id) so that we can capture information on who your FB friends are and the posts made by you or to you that appear on your FB news feed.  We will not capture any of the content of your posts or other communication that you make through FB, and we will not use our FB id to make posts or communicate with you. We will capture information on who made the post, where the post was made, the type of post (e.g,. text, picture, link to a website),  ‘liking’ activity, information on who your friends are, the adding and dropping friends, and friend requests.
  • Use an application on your smartphone that we will provide that allows you to record and log various things such as your weight, exercise activity (time and type), food consumed, medications, and how you are feeling.

Do I have to wear the Fitbit Charge HR all the time?

We would like you to wear the Fitbit as much of the time as you can.

Due to how the Fitbit Charge HR is constructed, the device cannot be worn while taking a shower, bath, or while swimming. The device will also need to be charged every few days (roughly every 4-5 days depending on how you configure the device). Other than that, we hope you wear it at all times, though we expect there will be sometimes when you either forget to wear it or would prefer not to.

We understand this, so we will make allowances for these things. The monthly stipend is structured with a minimum threshold required to receive that particular month’s portion of the Fitbit stipend.   See the Compliance information sheet. 


What do I do if my Fitbit breaks of stops working?

We are recommending that you first contact Fitbit customer service if you have a problem with your Fitbit not working or being broken (e.g., the band).  We suggest using live chat, but you can also call or email them.  Tell them the problem and ask for a replacement Fitbit.  For band damage, you may need to take a picture that shows the damage.  They should provide you with a new Fitbit.  If you are not successful with their customer service, email us  at nethealth@nd.edu and we will work out a way to get you a replacement.  If you are successful, after you receive your new Fitibit  complete this Fitbit Replacement Form (which you can also find on the forms page).  Keep your broken Fitbit and bring in back when you return to campus.


Will I have access to my Fitbit data?

Of course. Fitibit has excellent smartphone apps and an informative website. We will give every participant a registered Fitbit account with a password that will give you access 24/7 to your data. You are also encouraged to install the Fitbit app on your smartphone. We simply ask that you do not change the password or associate the Fitbit Charge HR with a different account. If you already have a Fitbit account, please let us know and we can work with you if you are willing to share your prior data.


Are there any incentives for participating in the study?

YES. We realize that we are asking people to do many things. As such, we have designed an incentive system that rewards you for being involved in the stud.  Participants receive up to $35/month for wearing the Fitbit Charge HR, backing up weekly their communication data, and using your smart devices with the installed apps / agents.

Participants receive these payments through an automated system that places the payments on a Visa card which is received upon enrollment into the NetHealth study.  Students can register their cards. which allows them to log onto an on-line portal to check balances and transfer funds.


 What information will be collected from my smartphone?

  • Communication log data: This includes date and time of communication event, the type of communication (text/voice call/email), incoming or outgoing, duration, identifiers for both sender and receiver, and the location where you sent the communication from (if available). This will not include the actual content of these communications.
  • Contact information: We will periodically (a few times per week) check your contact directory to appropriately relate the different digital identities of whom you are contacting.  For instance, it is helpful for the purposes of our study to know that a certain phone number and e-mail address both belong to the same person.
  • Phone status: On/off/charging/idle/active, application and features used (including time/date and location stamp).  We will also log the presence of nearby WiFi, your current cellular state (your cellular service status), and the amount of data that the applications on your smartphone are using.
  • Physical location including both the location of the device (using cell tower ID, WiFi access points) and proximate devices that are nearby the device (via Bluetooth LE / iBeacons).  The physical location recorded will include a latitude / longitude as well as an error on the accuracy of the reading.  Locations may be further classified in the aggregate with regards to various buildings and / or rooms on campus.
  • Physical Environment: We will also periodically query the various sensors on your phone to get a sense of your local environment including aspects such as temperature, the amount of light, and the amount of background noise level.  Internal sensors such as the accelerometer and gyroscope may also be queried to determine indoor positioning as well as general phone usage.
  • Network: The connectivity of your smartphone may occasionally be tested for the purposes of assessing the underlying network health.  Data usage by the smartphone app will be strictly limited to “phone home” only on WiFi.  Other testing aspects will be limited to less than a few MBs per month.

The smartphone agent will use up to 100 MB of storage space on your phone depending on how often you have access to WiFi. The agent will be optimized to phone home strictly on WiFi and while your device is already charging to avoid unnecessarily draining your battery or consuming data on your data plan. The NetHealth study is not responsible for any data overages induced by the study. As noted above, we envision only a few megabytes of data consumption each month.

All data once relayed from the smartphone will be appropriately anonymized in our internal database.


What information will be collected from the Fitbit Charge HR?

Data collected from the activity tracker will include physical movement (steps, stairs, distance but not geographical location) and heart rate that will allow us to measure your calorie burn rates, physical activity levels, and sleep levels and patterns. Also any data that you manually log, such as your weight, what you eat, special exercise activities, will also be collected.


Is there any other information about me that you will collect?

Yes.

  • Periodic surveys:  Every 3-4 months we will ask you to complete two surveys, one on your attitudes, behaviors and tastes, another on you social network.
  • Survey and logging data: From time to time we will ask you to answer short questions pertaining to what you are doing, what your current mood is, what activities you are engaged in, and so on.  We may also ask you to log events such as when you eat and exercise for the purposes of validating the data observed by the Fitbit and our device. The questions will be directly delivered to your phone where you will be able to answer them. We will also ask you from time to time to go online and complete surveys about your attitudes, preferences and activities. This information will be securely transferred to our secure computer servers.
  • Facebook (FB) data: We are asking you to “friend” us (there will be a unique FB project id) so that we can capture information on who your friends are and the posts made by you or to you that appear on your FB news feed. We will not capture any of the content of your posts or other communication that you make through FB, and we will not use our FB id to make posts or communicate with you directly. We will capture information on who made the post, where the post was made, the type of post (e.g,. text, picture, link to a website), ‘liking’ activity, information on who your friends are, the adding and dropping friends, and friend requests.

This is a good deal of private information.  What are you doing to ensure its security and privacy?

We have taken numerous precautions to ensure security and privacy. The faculty members who are in charge of this project have worked on other projects involving personal data and developed highly secure procedures for handling such data. All procedures that we will use to collect, transmit, and store the data have been reviewed and approved by the University of Notre Dame’s Institutional Review Board. Our specific security measures include:

  • Encryption of all data prior to transfer from phone to secure servers.
  • Storage of data on secure servers with firewalls housed at the Notre Dame Center for Research Computing
  • Appropriate anonymization / safeguards for stored data on our secure servers
  • Access to data only by the four principal investigators and their research associates.
  • Research publications developed from these data will focus on general network patterns and not on people’s specific networks. We are interested in network patterns and not the specifics of any single individual’s network or usage patterns. Our research and publications will focus on aggregated patterns (e.g., differences between men and women, business and engineering majors).

The exact information we will be collecting, the measures we are taking to ensure security and privacy, the risks associated with participation, and your obligations as a participant are all detailed in the consent forms which have been approved by University of Notre Dame’s Institutional Review Board and which study participants must read and sign.  Please look over the consent and assent forms for detailed information on the study.


Are there any risks associated with participation in this study?

As far as we know there are only two risks associated with participating in this study, and both are small risks that we will attempt to minimize:

  1. Activity tracker skin irritation:  While rare, some people experience mild skin irritation resulting from wearing the Fitbit Charge HR. The irritation is the result of the metal contacts.  If you have any known metal allergies you should notify us via email (nethealth@nd.edu) and we will assess whether you can participate in the study.  If you do experience any allergic reaction to the activity tracker during the course of the study,  you will be able to withdraw from the study or use another device (ex. Basis Peak).
  2. Privacy risk:  We will be obtaining from your smart devices and online surveys confidential information about you. Therefore we are taking numerous measures to insure the confidentiality of this information, to minimize the privacy risk,  and to insure that all data is secure.
    • All potential identifying information such as telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, social network site names, etc. will be (1) encrypted when sent from the phone to our secure servers and (2) anonymized to the greatest extent possible with all participants identified through anonymous numeric identifiers (including all digital IDs such as Facebook name, Twitter handles, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc.).
    • All data collected through this study will be stored on a secure computer housed at the Notre Dame Center for Research Computing that is only accessible by the principal investigators and their authorized associates.
    • At no time will the identity of the participants in this study be revealed.
    • You have the right to withdraw from this study at any time and to have all data obtained through your devices destroyed.  You also have the right to make your smartphone or other smart device “invisible” at any time, thereby stopping the capture of information while still preserving normal phone functioning.  You also have the right to remove the activity tracker at any time.

If you or your parents have questions about the study, who should you contact?

You can contact us at anytime at nethealth@nd.edu or at (574) 631-7095. You can also contact any of the four principal researchers at any time. If you have questions about privacy and security we can answer them.  You can also contact the Office of Research Compliance, 317 Main Building, Notre Dame, Indiana (574.631.1461, compliance@nd.edu) if you have any questions or concerns.  Also administrators and advisors at Notre Dame’s First Year of Studies program are aware of our study. If you have any questions or concerns you can contact Elly Brenner, Assistant Dean in the First Year of Studies.


Who is conducting this research and how is it being supported?

The lead researchers are four Notre Dame professors, two in Sociology (Professors David Hachen and Omar Lizardo) and two in Computer Science and Engineering (Professors Aaron Striegel and Christian Poelleabaur). We work in two Notre Dame research centers: The Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications (iCeNSA) and the Wireless Institute. Our research is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. We have put together a large team of people including other professors from Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) and Psychology, and graduate student research assistants from Psychology, Sociology and CSE.