I first heard about SamaritansRadar yesterday (October 29th) – that it was an app, and that its function was to help identify someone, a friend, who was feeling vulnerable. Then I began to hear more concerning comments about the way in which it was being applied and how the algorithm underpinning it could not manage sarcasm. Funny? Not really; I thought it probably couldn’t handle excerpts from professional papers or books, discussion amongst professionals, for instance, about suicide and depression, and also, more amusingly, the tweets my fiction writing friends often put out to publicise their books or stories. I decided to try it out, to register and see what the process was and what filters it allowed me to apply. But there were none, it was a simple activation process that then embedded the app in my twitter account and set about monitoring all the people I follow. I know very few of them in any other context and the lack of constraints, consent, or any kind of privacy protection was alarming. I revoked its permission straight away and emailed the Samaritans with my concerns. A good idea poorly implemented? Maybe, but let’s please not drive twitter users away by well-meaning but covert surveillance.
UPDATE: 30 October
Susan Hall has written a brilliant piece expanding on mine below, and she points out that section 12 of the Data Protection Act 1998 in terms allows a data subject to send a notice to a data controller requiring it to ensure no automated decisions are taken by processing their personal data for the purposes of evaluating matters such as their conduct. It seems to me that is precisely what “Samaritans Radar” does. So I’ve sent the following to Samaritans
This is a notice pursuant to section 12 Data Protection Act 1998. Please ensure that no decision is taken by you or on your behalf (for instance by the “Samaritans Radar” app) based solely on the processing by automatic means of my personal data for the purpose of evaluating my conduct.
Thanks, Jon Baines @bainesy1969
I’ll post here about any developments.
Samaritans have launched a Twitter App
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