Every Wednesday afternoon, an alert flashes on the cellphones of about 50 teenagers in New York and Pennsylvania. Its questions are blunt: “In the past week, how often have you thought of killing yourself?” “Did you make a plan to kill yourself?” “Did you make an attempt to kill yourself?”
The 13- to 18-year-olds tap their responses, which are fed to a secure server. They have agreed, with their parents’ support, to something that would make many adolescents cringe: an around-the-clock recording of their digital lives. For 6 months, an app will gobble up nearly every data point their phones can offer, capturing detail and nuance that a doctor’s questionnaire cannot: their text messages and social media posts, their tone of voice in phone calls and facial expression in selfies, the music they stream, how much they move around, how much time they spend at home.
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