Content note: Suicide and depression.
So Samaritans Radar has been “suspended” – whatever that means – for now. Samaritans still aren’t taking legal responsibility for the data and we don’t know what’s happened to the personal data of the over 1.9 million people who were being monitored by the app.
But despite these very important issues going unaddressed, the discussion has moved on to what comes next.
Samaritans have launched an online survey to get people’s feedback on the app and part of the idea there is to give them a sense of where they should go from here.
I’m very pleased that Samaritans have finally suspended the Samaritans Radar app this evening.
Samaritans Radar was a project that should never have been conceived. By its closure, it enabled Samaritans to monitor over 1.9 million people on Twitter without their knowledge or consent, create sensitive personal data about their emotional and mental health status, and then publish that to effectively anyone. It was unethical and illegal.
Samaritans Radar has done real damage to people with mental health problems and caused huge disruption in communities of support on Twitter.
The Samaritans’ statement this evening entirely fails to address the concerns of people who want Samaritans Radar to close.
It’s clear that the people the Samaritans have been listening to most in the last few days are their lawyers.
If the Samaritans are to be believed, the Samaritans Radar app:
creates no new personal data that isn’t already public (almost certainly impossible) is not controlled by the Samaritans (so who does control it?
To Nick Pickles (@nickpickles), Twitter UK’s head of policy
When I first heard about Samaritans Radar it sounded like an interesting idea. Then I thought about how it might be used to hurt vulnerable people as well as to help them.
But what really changed my mind about it was reading the #SamaritansRadar hashtag.
There was a buzz about the app but not a good one. Almost everyone there was saying that they were worried about it.
Update, 2 Nov 2014: We’re asking Twitter to shut down Samaritans Radar because the Samaritans aren’t listening.
I’ll cut to the chase. The Samaritans Radar app has been a disaster for everyone concerned and it must close. Right now. Today. There’s no way forward for it. Just shut the damned thing down and chalk it up as an experiment that failed. Learn the lessons.
Yes, the Samaritans tried to do something to help people in distress.
The outcry about Samaritans Radar has highlighted a common, false and extremely dangerous argument: Your tweets (or other social media posts) are public and so you’ve only got yourself to blame if someone uses them in ways you don’t like. Consequently, if you don’t want to suffer harm you should watch what you say.
This is essentially victim blaming and a call for self-censorship. It’s disturbing that the Samaritans themselves use this argument in their supposed defence rather than taking a more critical view of their own responsibility to act ethically.
Samaritans Radar is a Twitter app bursting with good intentions. Unfortunately it has potential to cause great harm.
Let’s take the happy case, because Samaritans Radar is built for a perfect world in which only happy cases exist.
You sign up for the Twitter app and it promises to send you email alerts whenever someone you follow on Twitter – your friends – looks like they’re miserable and in need of some support.