Samaritans taking legal advice over controversial app » Charity Digital News

Samaritans taking legal advice over controversial app


Samaritans has responded to claims that its controversial Radar Twitter app is in breach of data protection by seeking further legal advice. The charity says it is satisfied that it complies with data legislation, but that it will take into account any advice given by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The app, launched last week, monitors the Twitter feeds of people who sign up and checks the tweets of those that the subscriber follow against certain key word criteria to suggest if someone appears to be struggling emotionally and is expressing tell-tale signs on social media.

However, its launch prompted a backlash on Twitter from users arguing that it was an invasion of privacy, as the tweets of those who had not signed up could be viewed if they were followed by someone that had.

This has led to an online petition being submitted, calling for the app to be withdrawn, which has attracted just over 1,000 signatures, compared to the 3,000 that the Samaritans claim have signed up to the app.

In a fourth statement defending the app, Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research and development, said “we have taken the time to seek further legal advice on the issues raised. Our continuing view is that Samaritans Radar is compliant with the relevant data protection legislation for the following reasons: We believe that Samaritans is neither the data controller or data processor of the information passing through the app. All information identified by the app is available on Twitter, in accordance with Twitter’s Ts&Cs. The app does not process private tweets.

If Samaritans were deemed to be a data controller, given that vital interests are at stake, exemptions from data protection law are likely to apply.”

There have been additional concerns that the app could be hijacked by cyberbullies who could identify those who were in a vulnerable emotional state and further pursue online bullying, Ferns responded, “we condemn any behaviour which would constitute bullying or harassment of anyone using social media. If people experience this kind of behaviour as a result of the app or their support for the app, we would encourage them to report this immediately to Twitter, who take this issue very seriously.

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  • Simon Brasch

    I do understanding the strategy behind this but it is the equivalent of someone coming to you physical organisation and asking for help and you then follow them around to check if they are visiting any places that may cause them harm. At a minimum they should be asked it it’s ok to follow them around, regularly remind them they are being followed around and give them the option to say no at any point.

  • Annie Heath

    The app should work by users agreeing to being monitored not people signing up to be alerted about their followers.. For the risk of being trolled alone it needs to do this. Samaritans can’t just say “if that happens report it”. Samaritans also need to explain how their algorithim works more. i.e. people don’t always tweet when they are feeling low – does it monitor nomal usage and flag up when there is none? Does it monitor content of retweets? or does is just monitor words and phrases -because then it feels like it is not necessarily going to work. “look at this lonely last slice of cake – lots of talk about who eats it – I am gonna end it”
    Their responses also show that they just need to use twitter more and understand its culture better- work with users on the app, iterate, apologise properly when you mess up, be open and willing to engage. No-one doubt their good intentions. The reporting of abuse is known to be bad on twitter. With issues like #gamergate, and #yesallwomen happening , saying “report it if this happens, if anyone was gonna be awful enough to use it in this way” – they show that they haven’t fully researched their marketplace. Thats because to know it you have to use it as a person not an organisation.