The New York Times Sunday Review included a striking op ed suggesting that universities could one day deploy software to analyze students’ internet usage for the purpose of assessing their mental health. The writers, Sriram Chellappan and Raghavendra Kotikalapudi, support their argument by explaining that they conducted a study on university students that demonstrated a correlation between depression and certain patterns of internet usage (for example, “very high e-mail usage”). The study involved screening 216 students at Missouri University of Science and Technology for depression and then having “the university’s information technology department provide us with campus Internet usage data for our participants . . . . This didn’t mean snooping on what the students were looking at or whom they were e-mailing; it merely meant monitoring how they were using the Internet” (so, for example, if they were surfing the web, checking email, using p2p programs, etc.).
A few points in response: