Therapy apps, despite the sensitive content they contain, have one of the most poor privacy protections we found, according to an investigation.
Despite their warm fuzzy packaging and seemingly altruistic intentions, mental health and prayer apps are “It is worse than any other product” when it comes to user privacy and security, an analysis by browser firm Mozilla revealed on Monday.
“Most prayer and mental health apps for the elderly are extremely creepy.,” Mozilla’s Jen Caltrider, the primary creator of the firm’s “Privacy Not Included” guide, which evaluated 32 such apps on their respect for users’ personal data, told the Verge on Monday. Caltrider noted that the apps one might think would recognize the sensitive nature of their data instead “track, share, and capitalize on users’ most intimate personal thoughts and feelings, like moods, mental state, and biometric data.”
Although apps that collect biometric information and other potentially private data are not new, it is reasonable to expect that developers of app would try to duplicate such secure spaces online.
The Privacy Not Included Guide found that 29 of the 32 apps were given a privacy warning label. This was because they stored large quantities of personal information under unclear privacy policies, or had poor security practices such as weak passwords. Talkspace is a popular app that stores entire chat transcripts between users and their therapists. Woebot an AI therapy chatbot collects user information from third parties and shares it for marketing purposes.
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Mozillla researcher Misha Rykov referred to the apps his team analyzed as “With a mental-health app veneer, data-sucking computers,” or “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But with real-life therapy increasingly expensive and the process of finding a therapist who ‘matches’ a patient hit or miss, the lure of a friendly voice just a click away is difficult to resist for some. But given the apps’ apparent core purpose of data mining and selling users’ deepest darkest secrets, it might be a better idea to hold one’s tongue until one can meet up with a qualified therapist or at least a trusted friend – ideally in real life.
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