Do Online Therapy Apps Put Users’ Privacy at Risk?

The disquieting world of online privacy in 2020

Sigmund Freud monument
Could the next Sigmund Freud be available in app form?
MOs810/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / February 22, 2020 1:48 pm

An increasing number of people are looking for therapy in the same place they look for a number of other things: namely, their app store of choice. And while this might seem strange at first, it makes more sense the longer you think about it. Plenty of people have talked with their therapist over the phone or via Skype. Is this that much different? And if therapy apps can get more people connected to therapists, that’s also a good thing for mental health in general.

But a new article at Jezebel notes one potential downside of bringing together therapy and apps: namely, the privacy issues involved. The report, by Molly Osberg and Dhruv Mehrotra, focuses on Better Help, which drew attention in late 2018 for its distinctive marketing strategy. Osberg and Mehrotra note that Better Help touts its commitment to privacy — but that might have some exceptions.

…the realities of advertising on the internet, and the web of third-party services apps like Better Help tend to use, means some sensitive information does end up being shared — all with the ostensible goal of better tracking user behavior, and perhaps giving social media companies an easy way to see who’s feeling depressed.

The found that Better Help shares metadata about sessions with Facebook, while the analytics firm MixPanel received more data, albeit inan anonymized form. As the authors note, Better Help isn’t the only therapy app where these concerns come up, and they’re not the only concerns to have come up in this space in recent years.

The appeal of therapy apps is hard to deny, but certain things about them might give some potential users pause. Whether those areas of concern are any more severe than the privacy concerns surrounding any app in 2020 will depend on whoever’s using it.

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