Threats to Global Mental Health From Unregulated Digital Phenotyping and Neuromarketing: Recommendations for COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Hossein Akbarialiabad, Bahar Bastani, Mohammad Hossein Taghrir, Shahram Paydar, Nasrollah Ghahramani, Manasi Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The new era of digitalized knowledge and information technology (IT) has improved efficiency in all medical fields, and digital health solutions are becoming the norm. There has also been an upsurge in utilizing digital solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the unmet mental healthcare needs, especially for those unable to afford in-person office-based therapy sessions or those living in remote rural areas with limited access to mental healthcare providers. Despite these benefits, there are significant concerns regarding the widespread use of such technologies in the healthcare system. A few of those concerns are a potential breach in the patients' privacy, confidentiality, and the agency of patients being at risk of getting used for marketing or data harnessing purposes. Digital phenotyping aims to detect and categorize an individual's behavior, activities, interests, and psychological features to properly customize future communications or mental care for that individual. Neuromarketing seeks to investigate an individual's neuronal response(s) (cortical and subcortical autonomic) characteristics and uses this data to direct the person into purchasing merchandise of interest, or shaping individual's opinion in consumer, social or political decision making, etc. This commentary's primary concern is the intersection of these two concepts that would be an inevitable threat, more so, in the post-COVID era when disparities would be exaggerated globally. We also addressed the potential “dark web” applications in this intersection, worsening the crisis. We intend to raise attention toward this new threat, as the impacts might be more damming in low-income settings or/with vulnerable populations. Legal, health ethics, and government regulatory processes looking at broader impacts of digital marketing need to be in place.

Original languageEnglish
Article number713987
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • data privacy
  • digital mental health regulations
  • digital neuromarketing
  • digital phenotyping
  • global mental health
  • lower and middle income counteries


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