In a recent report published by Duke University, companies running mental health apps sold customers’ personal data and details about their specific conditions.
On February 13th, 2023, researchers at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University released an in-depth empirical report on how data brokers in the United States are willing to sell sensitive data linked to telehealth and therapy apps to the highest bidder.
Out of the 34 companies contacted by the author of the study, ten were ready to sell exhaustive lists with details on the app customers’ conditions, which include –
- Attention disorder;
- ADHD and treatments/medication for ADHD/ADD;
- Antidepressants; and
- Bipolar disorders
While the relationship between the app providers and data brokers provides a regular, largely incontestable revenue stream for both sides due to policy and legal loopholes on user data collection, telehealth apps have become a significant revenue potential in their own right.
As the chart produced by Statista Health Market Insights (below) shows, in-app purchases in medication checker and meditation apps generated revenues of $1.2 billion in the United States in 2022 alone. The latter became increasingly popular during the pandemic, likely due to the added feeling of stress surrounding the novel coronavirus.
As Joanne Kim, the researcher behind the study above, states,
“Telehealth app downloads increased by 200 percent between 2019 and 2020. By 2027, the combined in-app purchase revenues of mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm or medication checkers like MyRxProfile or Drug Interaction Checker could amount to almost $2 billion.”
Tell me more about data collection
Data collection by internet companies has long been commonplace, with the idea of a consumer of a free product not being the customer but the product dating back to the 1970s.
One of the most influential recent cases of large-scale data collection and its misuse becoming public was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The consulting firm collected various data points of at least 30 million Facebook users via a dedicated app. It provided this data to the 2016 campaigns of former president Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz for analytical purposes.
Further suggested uses in Russian election interference and the Brexit referendum couldn’t be conclusively proven. The misuse of data led to Facebook agreeing to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, one of the largest US government fines ever.
Where is the largest health app usage?
The use of health apps, which includes the multitude of mental health apps available these days, has risen exponentially in recent years. While generally westernized developed countries have seen higher growth rates, others, such as India and Indonesia, are also heavy users.
Statistics collated and reported by Statista show that China has the highest usage of health apps, with 65% of the population reporting use of a health app in the p[ast 12 months, with India coming a close second with 63%
In a world where mobile phone usage is relentless, and there would appear to be an app for everything, mental health apps, and all other genres continue to be developed and enhanced.
Unlocking and accessing the full benefits of many of these apps often requires your personal details to be surrendered, often along with some cash. This cash can mean big rewards for the owners/developers of such apps, as shown above.
While there may be the temptation to engage with several apps, we at My Mind News encourage a cautious and balanced approach to doing so. Find a small number of apps that you can get on with, and try to resist the temptation to keep switching between them or shopping around.
While ‘try-before-you buy’ might be a throwaway phrase, it might save you a small fortune.
Which mental health apps do you subscribe to? Have you ever had any negative experiences with such apps? Tell us more in the comments.