Loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety – Google searches for these terms are off the chart.
It’s not because it’s Mental Health Month either, although that would be a nice excuse. Ever since COVID-19 strode into the U.S., everyone has been affected: 86% of teens, who knows how many senior citizens, even the Surgeon General says there’s an epidemic of sadness and loneliness.
And, since we live in a time where an app can do anything, well, why not let an app get us all out of our funk?
Despite a mental health app’s good intentions, Mozilla’s latest *Privacy Not Included study shows mental health apps are failing to protect user privacy and security – a factor that could make us wring our hands even more if a hacker gets possession of our private information and starts leveraging it to their benefit.
Fifty-nine percent of the top apps studied were given *Privacy Not Included warning labels, while 40% have gotten worse over the last year.
'I’ll be your very best friend…'
Of concern to Mozilla’s researchers were the apps that pretend to want to cuddle up with a user a little too much. They found many apps that were jam-full of tracking code, with the app Cerebral installing 799 trackers onto a person’s phone within the first minute of download.
There were also apps that wasted no time collecting information – before even asking for consent. The researchers said that Talkspace, Happify, and BetterHelp all pushing consumers into taking questionnaires up front without asking for their permission or showing their privacy policies first.
One app that freaked out Mozilla’s team was, what else but an AI app? “Replika: My AI Friend” which wants to be your virtual reality best friend is one of the worst apps Mozilla said it’s ever reviewed and voted by users as the 10th “most creepy.”
“It’s plagued by weak password requirements, sharing of personal data with advertisers, and recording of personal photos, videos, and voice and text messages consumers shared with the chatbot,” the researchers said.
Others in the Top 10 of the apps users voted the “most creepy” include (in order) Pride Counseling, Better Stop Suicide, Pray, Cerebral, Better Help, TalkSpace, The Mighty, 7 Cups, and Youper.
“The worst offenders are still letting consumers down in scary ways, tracking and sharing their most intimate information and leaving them incredibly vulnerable,” said Jen Caltrider, Mozilla’s *Privacy Not Included Lead.
But it can be done the right way, too