Samaritans Address Twitter Privacy Concerns Over Their New App
Consider a scenario in which you want to know whether your friend or a family member is going through bad time or not. You further want to know if they are at their peak of stress, ready to commit suicide, so that you can offer help and guide them out of their bad phase of life.
What would you do? How would you know if they are vulnerable or not? Samaritans, a UK suicide prevention charity, look to provide you a way to know if they are in need of help by analyzing their tweets. Many people post tweets which directly or indirectly show how they are feeling. There can be some specific keywords like “sad” or “depressed” or “awesome” that reveal the feelings of the person in a tweet.
Using Samaritans newly launched app, Samaritans Radar, you can subscribe to another user’s tweets to check if he or she is in need of help. The app scans the tweets of the user and alerts the subscriber to potentially suicidal tweets by looking for trigger phrases. The app’s intention is to help such people who are otherwise hideous about their feelings, but post depressive stuff on the social network.
However, their approach raises serious privacy concerns because the app “reads” the tweets of anyone without their notice and emails them to another user. “The people you follow won’t know you’ve signed up to it and all alerts will be sent directly to your email address,” mentioned on Samaritans website.
This app could also be used by stalkers as this would be a great way for them to know when their victim is feeling most vulnerable, without putting in effort of reading tweets. These concerns were raise by many people on personal blogs and Twitter.
Considering all these concerns, Samaritans has found a new way to maintain user privacy. They now offer an opt-out function using which users keep themselves immune to the app. The function of whitelisting, initially launched for organizations who continuously write such words that the app would pick up, will be extended to individuals.
Hence, if you want to whitelist yourself, just follow @samaritans on Twitter and send a personal message. Samaritans says that they would process your query within 72 hours and keep you free from monitoring.
“In developing the app we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken and believe that this app does not breach data protection legislation,” said the Samaritans.
Samaritans received more than 1,500 subscribers and monitored around 900,000 Twitter feeds on day one. However, their failure rate was huge with only 10 out 258 alerts to be accurate.
Although their intention is good, current Internet ethics and privacy laws limit such type of data processing. They would need a lot of consultation with data protection experts and lawyers along their way.