Samaritans taking legal advice over controversial app

| 5th Nov 14

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This has led to an online petition being submitted, calling for the app to be withdrawn, which has attracted just over 1,000 signatures, compared to the 3,000 that the Samaritans claim have signed up to the app.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