STAT

A startup’s bold plan for a mood-predicting smartphone app is shadowed by questions over evidence

The Silicon Valley startup Mindstrong says it can track your mental health via your phone — and it's rising fast. But does its core technology work?

In the world of digital health, Silicon Valley-based Mindstrong stands out. It has a star-studded team and tens of millions in venture capital funding, including from Jeff Bezos’ VC firm.

It also has a captivating idea: that its app, based on cognitive functioning research, can help detect troubling mental health patterns by collecting data on a person’s smartphone usage — how quickly they type or scroll, for instance.

The promise of that technology has helped Mindstrong build incredible momentum since it launched last year; already more than a dozen counties in California have agreed to deploy the company’s app to patients.

Does the app live up to its promise? There’s no way to tell. Almost no one outside the company has any idea whether it works. Most of the company’s key promises or claims aren’t yet backed up by published, peer-reviewed data — leading some experts to wonder if the technology is ready for the real world.

“I wouldn’t waste all that time and money in the wild until they get sure that some of those things are as specific as they hope they are,” said Rosalind Picard, a researcher at MIT Media Lab who is familiar with Mindstrong’s work and tries to use data from smartphones

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