Adrian Short

Samaritans Radar suspended - but it's not over yet

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. Many people have suffered extreme distress and anxiety due to Samaritans’ unthinking desire to intrude into social spaces and the lives of vulnerable people without their permission. That damage doesn’t disappear with Samaritans Radar’s closure. People’s confidence to talk freely online about their lives and the support networks that have been damaged will take time to heal.

Serious legal questions remain. Samaritans continue to deny being the legal data controller for Samaritans Radar. Unless verified otherwise, the Samaritans Radar app continues to hold sensitive personal data about thousands of people’s mental health. Samaritans need to take legal responsibility as data controller and verify that all sensitive personal data held by them and their partners in this project (Twitter and Jam) has been deleted.

Samaritans’ statement that “the range of information and opinion, which is circulating about Samaritans Radar, has created concern and worry for some people” is beneath contempt. The Samaritans’ app and their own unwillingness to engage with people’s concerns online has greatly compounded and prolonged the distress suffered by many vulnerable people. Trust in the Samaritans has been severely damaged and that extends to their core helpline services, not just this app.

It has been a privilege to work with everyone who has campaigned to shut down Samaritans Radar: the people who wrote blogs from every conceivable perspective, the people who tweeted and debated, the people who gave legal support, the people that offered donations (none were accepted), the over 1200 people who signed and shared our petition.

Thank you. I hope we don’t have to do this again.

@adrianshort adrian@adrianshort.org

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7 Nov 2014