Searchlight Ethics: Using Search Engine Data for Detection and Early Intervention in Suicide Prevention

At a glance

Funded by: NIMH 2022 - 2023
Principal Investigator(s): Kate Comtois
Research Team:
Participating Agencies:
Research Setting: Online


Given the popularity of Google Search, a risk prediction algorithm and subsequent intervention should be able to reach at-risk Americans to prevent suicide. To be successful, a number of ethical, legal, and societal implications need to be addressed. This study funded as an administrative supplement to the Searchlight Study will qualitatively interview up to 50 suicidal individuals (25 with no previous experience with treatment for suicide and 25 with that experience) and up to 20 interventionists (clinicians and community workers as well as risk managers) about the ethical and equitable application of such algorithms and preferences for interventions if an algorithm identifies someone at high risk.

Issues addressed:

  • Privacy, risk/benefit, accessibility and usability, and data management concerns of suicide risk algorithms
  • Diversity representation and access to care
  • Treatment preferences – generally and in response to a positive suicide risk flag


  • Study in progress