CR Digital Lab Investigates Privacy Practices of Mental Health Apps

Today, we’re sharing our findings from a comparative privacy evaluation of seven mental health apps. You can read the full report here.

Why did we focus on the privacy practices of mental health apps? These apps are a growing industry and the impacts of COVID-19 have negatively affected many people’s mental health — creating barriers for access to help cope with mental illness and depression.

App-based mental health counseling can be great help, but consumers should be aware of some caveats. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides some federal privacy protections for data you share with your doctor. However, those rules typically don’t apply to applications you can download to your phone.

Mental health apps in particular collect sensitive information — about anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress — that can create damaging, irreversible impacts on individuals if shared with third parties, including social stigmatization and additional barriers to future opportunities.

We think consumers deserve peace of mind when considering using a mental health app. That’s why we evaluated the privacy practices of 7 mental health apps — BetterHelp, Moodpath, Sanity & Self, Talkspace, Wysa, Youper and 7 Cups.

Based on our findings, we issued 4 recommendations for providers of app-based mental health counseling services.

For more information, please read our full report, 2-page brief and our letter to the companies. We also published a case study that provides additional information about our evaluation.

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