How Mental Health Apps Are Hacking Customers’ Emotional Data

Apps spell big business in the healthcare industry. Dozens of apps are targeting people with depression, anxiety and autism. According to researchers, many app developers sell users’ data including their name, medical status and sex, to third parties such as Facebook and Google. Most consumers are unaware that their data can be used against them.

“The vast majority of mental health and prayer apps are exceptionally creepy,” Jen Caltrider at Mozilla says in a statement.

“They track, share, and capitalise on users’ most intimate personal thoughts and feelings, like moods, mental state, and biometric data.”

In the latest iteration of the guide, the team analysed 32 mental health and prayer apps. Of those apps, 29 were given a “privacy not included” warning label, indicating that the team had concerns about how the app managed user data. The apps are designed for sensitive issues like mental health conditions yet collect large amounts of personal data under vague privacy policies, the team said in the statement. Most apps also had poor security practices, letting users create accounts with weak passwords despite containing personal information.

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Mental Health Apps Accused Of Leaking Data 

The apps with the worst practices, according to Mozilla, are Better Help, Youper, Woebot, Better Stop Suicide, Pray.com, and Talkspace. The AI chatbot Woebot, for example, says it collects information about users from third parties and shares user information for advertising purposes. Therapy provider Talkspace collects user chat transcripts.

Image source: firstquotehealth.com

The Mozilla team said in a statement that it reached out to the companies behind these apps to ask about their policies multiple times, but only three responded.

In-person, traditional mental health care can be challenging for many people to find — most therapists have long waiting lists, and navigating insurance and costs can be a significant barrier to care. The problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic when more and more people started to need care. Mental health apps sought to fill that void by making resources more accessible and readily available. But that access could come with a privacy tradeoff, the report shows.

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