Samaritans suspends Radar app after petition about data protection

The suicide prevention charity says it will seek more feedback about the app after more than 1,200 people signed a petition calling for it to be shut down

Samaritans Radar
Samaritans Radar

The suicide prevention charity Samaritans has suspended its controversial Samaritans Radar app after a petition claiming it breached the Data Protection Act attracted more than 1,200 signatures.

Samaritans initially sought to reassure users of the app – which was launched on 29 October and was designed to tell Twitter users which of the people they followed might be feeling low – that it had undergone an impact assessment against data protection principles and saying that it believed in the app.

But on Friday evening the charity released a statement from Joe Ferns, its executive director of policy, research and development, saying that after feedback and advice, including from people with mental health conditions, it would be suspending the app for further consideration.

"We are very aware that the range of information and opinion that is circulating about Samaritans Radar has created concern and worry for some people, and we would like to apologise to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress. This was not our intention," said Ferns. "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."

He said the charity would also be testing potential changes and adaptations to the app to make it safe and effective for subscribers and their followers.

But Adrian Short, the information policy activist whose petition on Change.org had 1,225 signatures as of this morning, wrote on his blog that his campaign was "not over yet".

He said he wanted Samaritans to acknowledge that it was legally responsible for the data on Samaritans Radar and that all personal data has been deleted.

He also questioned on Twitter whether the app was still pulling data from users’ feeds and said the charity should de-authorise all current users unless it intended to relaunch the app immediately.

Short wrote: "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."

Another critic of the app, Jon Mendel, a lecturer in human geography at Dundee University, said on his blog, which he writes in a personal capacity, that the withdrawal of the app had been handled poorly, with users only being informed of the news through the media rather than directly. He said this could have led to them missing worrying tweets.

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