Samaritans yanks creepy Twitter-spying Radar app amid privacy fears

Suspends Web2.0 suicide watch project

Alf Garnett and Else BBC sitcom - Till Death Us Do Part

A creepy, do-gooder app created by the Samaritans has been moth-balled by the charity, following a deluge of privacy concerns about the stalking tool.

In a post on its website late on Friday, the UK organisation – which serves as an anonymous, safe service for crisis-hit Brits who seek advice and support – admitted it had screwed up.

It said:

Following the broad range of feedback and advice Samaritans has received since the launch of the Samaritans Radar app on 29 October 2014, including the serious concerns raised by some people with mental health conditions using Twitter, we have made the decision to suspend the application at this time for further consideration.

We care passionately about supporting vulnerable people in a range of ways, and know it is important we get Samaritans Radar right.

The app was heavily criticised for automatically and secretly scanning Twitter timelines, sniffing for keywords relating to depression and then flagging up warnings about a potentially suicidal person to Radar users.

While it was clear that the Samaritans app presented serious privacy flaws, the charity was slow to respond to criticism.

It finally chose late on Friday (a good time for outfits to bury bad news) to confirm that Radar would be removed while the organisation has a good think about what had gone wrong.

The Samaritans added:

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.

However there is still an important need which we have identified to find ways to support vulnerable people online, including those young people the app was primarily aimed at. We would also like to recognise and thank those who have shown support for the app.

It would appear that the charity has finally accepted that the app needs some serious quality testing – not least, we hope – from privacy experts, before the Samaritans attempts to unleash its Radar app on the Twitterati.

"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," it promised. ®

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