Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Samaritans backdown over Twitter spy app - for now

On 29 October 2014 The Samaritans organisation, which describes itself as the leading suicide prevention charity, launched an app for Twitter which allowed even a person’s anonymous followers to sign up for notification that the person was ‘vulnerable’. The allegedly vulnerable person having no idea that a spy app had been launched to monitor their tweets.

Organisations which had Twitter accounts could contact this charity and arrange to have the app blocked from accessing their accounts but individuals were denied this option.

Once the twitterverse became aware of Samaritan Radar the response was predominately less than favourable, as the potential for this invasive app to be abused was obvious.

Some Twitter users became angry:

Some became fearful:

On 7 November 2014 BBC News reported that the app had been suspended:

An app made by the Samaritans that was supposed to detect when people on Twitter appeared to be suicidal has been pulled due to "serious" concerns.
The charity's app was meant to use an algorithm to identify key words and phrases which indicated distress.
But in practice, some said the app made those with mental health issues feel more vulnerable.
The Samaritans apologised to "anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress".
"We have made the decision to suspend the application at this time for further consideration," said the charity's policy director, Joe Ferns, in a statement.
"Our primary concern is for anyone who may be struggling to cope, including those with mental health conditions.
"We are very aware that the range of information and opinion, which is circulating about Samaritans Radar, has created concern and worry for some people and would like to apologise to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress.
"This was not our intention."…..
Despite the suspension of the app, the Samaritans' Mr Ferns defended the charity's track record experimenting with new technology.
"Samaritans has a history of innovating to meet the challenges of providing a safe, relevant and effective service to all those we exist to support and we will continue to do this and learn from the work we do.
"We will use the time we have now to engage in further dialogue with a range of partners, including in the mental health sector and beyond in order to evaluate the feedback and get further input.
"We will also be testing a number of potential changes and adaptations to the app to make it as safe and effective as possible for both subscribers and their followers."

However, the blind arrogance and rampant paternalism which led The Samaritans to launch this app now see it refusing to rule out re-introducing this spy technology at a later date.

Hopefully Twitter management will rethink its co-operation and refuse to allow Samaritan Radar anywhere near its platforms in the future.

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