Privacy protection worst on mental health, prayer apps: Report

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Mobile applications used for mental health and prayers have the worst privacy protection for users, according to a new analysis from researchers at Mozilla.

The team at Mozilla’s latest ‘Privacy Not Included’ guide analysed 32 mental health and prayer apps that cater to topics such as depression, mental health awareness, anxiety, as well as religion-themed services, The Verge reported.

Of these, 29 were given a “privacy not included” warning label, indicating that the team had concerns about how the apps managed user data.

The apps are designed for sensitive issues like mental health conditions, yet they collect large amount of personal data under vague privacy policies, the team said in a statement.

Most apps also had poor security practices, letting users create accounts with weak passwords despite containing deeply personal information.

“The vast majority of mental health and prayer apps are exceptionally creepy,” Jen Caltrider, the Mozilla Privacy Not Included guide lead, said in a statement.

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

According to Mozilla, the apps with the worst practices include ‘Better Help’, ‘Youper’, ‘Woebot’, ‘Better Stop Suicide’, ‘Pray.com’, and ‘Talkspace’, the report said.

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.

Mental health apps have proved to be more accessible and readily available than traditional in-person mental healthcare, which can be subject to stigma, waiting for the right therapist and cost, among others.

Even as mental health issues increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, these apps gained a lot but traded off privacy of the users, the report showed.

“They operate like data-sucking machines with a mental health app veneer,” said Mozilla researcher Misha Rykov in a statement.

“In other words: A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Rykov said.

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