Data Collection in Ethica can be divided into two broad categories: the first, called Activities, involves the data that participants provide by actively interacting with the Ethica app, such as responding to a survey or completing a cognitive task. The second, called Data Sources, involves the data that is automatically collected without the participant being directly engaged in it, for example collecting GPS data and step count.
Data sources can refer to different sensors, such as GPS, or be in the form of digital footprints, such as screen time, or be collected from wearables such as Google Fit devices. The common attribute between all of them is that participants don’t have to actively engage in collecting this data. They provide the necessary permissions initially when they join the study, and the rest happens automatically.
In this section, we explain how you can view, add, or modify data sources in your Ethica Study. We also explain what data sources are available and what kind of data each of them collects.
Note that Ethica web-app does not support data sources. So if your participants use Ethica using the web-app, they will not be able to provide data for any of the data sources your study contains.
Accessing Data Sources
In order to access the list of data sources currently monitored as part of your
study, go to the Researcher Dashboard and navigate to the
Data Sources page:
Here you can add or remove data sources from your study as the study
requirements change. To add a new data source, click on the
+ New Data Source
button. On the page that opens, you can see the list of all data sources Ethica
supports. Scroll through the list and click on the data source you are
interested in. This will take you to the page to enter some details about this
On this page, first you should specify whether providing this data source is mandatory or optional for your study participants. If a data source is marked as optional, Ethica app allows participants to opt out from this data source within the app. Note that in most cases, participants can simply revoke the necessary permissions for Ethica to collect the requested data source. In this case, this lack of necessary permission is reported via the Audit Trail.
You also should choose a Label and a Description for your data source. These values will be shown to the participant to explain what is being collected and why. You may add more details on why your study collects certain data sources within the informed consent, but the description here can also help participants to better understand why a specific data source is needed for your study.
After completing these fields, press
Add to create your new data source and
set up its data table. You will then be taken back to the study’s Data
Sources, where you can see the list of data sources in your study. If you click
on the data source, you can see its configurations and a few options:
In this panel, pressing
Export will take you to the Data Export page where
you can export the data collected by this data source.
You can also press the
Delete button and confirm your intent if you want to
remove the data source from your study. This will stop collecting that data for
your study immediately. If you want to delete the data for this data source as
well, mark the Delete the data from the data source checkbox as checked. If
for any reason you decided to delete the data after you deleted the data source
with that checkbox left unchecked, please contact
Ethica Support staff.
To edit a data source, simply press
Edit and apply your modifications.
Common Data Fields
You can access the collected data either by exporting them via the Data Export page, or by directly querying them using Kibana. The data format is different based on the data source, for example, GPS data contains location coordinates, while Pedometer contains number of steps taken. Regardless, there are some common fields for each record of each data source that we explain below.
Study ID: The unique ID of the study provided the data. Internally stored as
User ID: The unique ID of the participant provided the data. Internally
Device ID: The unique ID of the smart-device provided the data. Internally
Record Time: The time this record was captured. Internally stored as
Relative Record Time: The time this record was captured, relative to the
participation period's start time, in milliseconds. For example, 3,600,000
indicates the record was captured 1 hour after the participant joined the study.
Internally stored as
rel_record_time. Please note that this field won't be
updated if you
change a participant's start time.
Data Collection Behavior of Ethica
Ethica supports collecting data from Android, iOS, and wearable devices. For wearable devices, Ethica asks the user's permission to have access to the OEM's data servers (e.g. server of Garmin). Then it collects data from the sever at the end of every day.
For Android and iOS devices, Ethica requests data from the OS once every 5 minutes. iOS guarantees this 5-minute interval while Android doesn't guarantee and might provide data either less often or more often than 5 minutes.
The operating system of Android and iOS devices collects sensor data in two approaches: Continuous (e.g. pedometer) or Episodic (e.g. GPS). In the continuous approach, the device's operating system continuously collects data. The OS then provides all the collected data to the Ethica app when Ethica queries it from the device. For example, Android and iPhone devices continuously count the user's steps. If a study has the Pedometer sensor enabled, the Ethica app queries the pedometer data once every 5 minutes, but it gets the total number of steps taken since the last request. So even though the Ethica app queries data once every 5 minutes, it collects all steps taken by the participant. Similarly, Android and iPhone always check whether the screen is on or off. When screen state changes, the OS notifies the Ethica app, regardless of the 5-minute data query interval.
In the episodic approach, Ethica asks the OS every 5 minutes to collect data for a certain period of time, called Burst Length. The burst length is different for different data sources. For example, GPS keeps collecting data until it reads three accurate data points in a maximum time of 60 seconds. For battery, Ethica collects one record in each cycle. And for the accelerometer, Ethica collects data for 60 seconds.