As a category, mental health apps have poorer user privacy than most other types of apps, according to a new analysis by researchers at Mozilla. Prayer apps also had poor privacy standards, the team found.
“The vast majority of mental health and prayer apps are exceptionally scary,” said Jen Caltrider, Mozilla *Privacy not included lead said in a statement. “They track, share and leverage users’ most intimate personal thoughts and feelings, such as moods, state of mind and biometrics.”
In the latest edition of the leaderthe team analyzed 32 apps related to mental health and prayer. 29 of those apps received a “Privacy not included” warning, indicating that the team had concerns about the app’s management of user data. The apps are designed for sensitive issues like mental illness but collect large amounts of personal data under vague privacy policies, the team said in the statement. Most apps also had poor security practices, allowing users to create accounts with weak passwords even though they contained deeply personal information.
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.
The Mozilla team said in a statement that it had reached out to the companies behind these apps multiple times to ask their policies, but only three responded.
In-person, traditional mental health care can be difficult for many people to find — most therapists have long waiting lists, and navigating insurance and costs can be a major barrier to care. The problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more people needed care. Mental health apps wanted to fill this gap by making resources more accessible and readily available. But that access could come with a privacy trade-off, the report shows.
“They work like data suckers with a mental health app veneer,” Mozilla researcher Misha Rykov said in a statement. “In other words: a wolf in sheep’s clothing”,
https://www.theverge.com/2022/5/2/23045250/mozilla-mental-health-app-privacy-analysis Mental health apps have terrible privacy protections, finds report