The Samaritans suicide prevention charity in the U.K. has suspended its controversial Samaritans Radar Twitter app, which scanned the tweets of people that subscribers follow, in order to find signs of heavy depression and alert the subscribers. Critics, many of whom have experience of mental health issues, pointed out that the app was a gift to stalkers and trolls, and a disincentive to using Twitter to vent. Consent was a major issue, with the people being monitored not even receiving notifications when their tweets were flagged. In a Friday blog post, the Samaritans apologized “to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress” and said they would test “potential changes” to the app. The suspension took too long to arrive, but I’m glad it has.
The U.K. suicide prevention charity maintains that legal advisers have told it the controversial app is compliant with British data protection law — but refuse to explain this position just yet, despite strong opposition from mental illness sufferers.
The Samaritans Radar Twitter app, launched this week by the U.K.’s main suicide prevention charity, has good intentions. However, it’s an ethical and legal minefield.
The charity has launched a service called Samaritans Radar, which helps and encourages Twitter users to support potentially depressed contacts. However, some see it as invasive and counterproductive.