Mental health apps may not be as private as you think

Consumer Reports finds some send data to third parties such as Facebook

After a year filled with stress, sadness and anxiety, many people are downloading mental health apps for support. But Consumer Reports found some virtual platforms may not be as private as you think.
After a year filled with stress, sadness and anxiety, many people are downloading mental health apps for support. But Consumer Reports found some virtual platforms may not be as private as you think.

SAN ANTONIO – After a year filled with stress, sadness and anxiety, many people are downloading mental health apps for support. But Consumer Reports found some virtual platforms may not be as private as you think.

Mental health apps offer a range of options, from guided meditations to appointments with a licensed therapist. But, mental health apps aren’t always covered by the same medical privacy laws, like HIPAA, that protect the information you share in person with your doctor. And, even when HIPAA rules do apply, they may not cover all of the data the app collects.

“What companies tell you about what they do with your data is often pretty vague and confusing and it’s usually buried in privacy policies where it can be hard to find,” said Consumer Reports tech editor Thomas Germain.

Consumer Reports looked at several popular apps and found that many of them sent information to third parties such as Facebook and Google. This kind of data is often used for advertising or business research.

“We didn’t see these apps sharing details about your condition or what you’re telling your therapist,” Germain said. “But, they may be letting other companies know you’re using a mental health app.”

If you’re concerned about privacy, Consumer Reports says users should know if and where their data is being shared.

“If you’re using a mental health app, be sure it’s clear about who will be administering your care,” Germain said. “It’s worth seeking out licensed mental health professionals and there are plenty of services that will connect you to them.”

While some apps may be beneficial, there are other ways to receive mental health care or teletherapy. More information can be found in these links:


About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.