Samaritans Radar – serious privacy concerns raised

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

Dear 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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Not All Men, But Enough To Make Me Furious

Not All Men, But Enough To Make Me Furious

There’s an unnecessary war going on. When people use the #YesAllWomen hashtag, men who want to dissociate themselves from misogynistic behaviours are coming back with #NotAllMen. We know, but it helps to argue from our perspective rather than yours. Read this articulate and distressingly still necessary post by Shoshana Kessock.

Shoshana Kessock

Warning: This post is about the Isla Vista shooting in California. It will have discussions about sexual violence, murder, misogyny, feminism, and more. It will also have personal content. And it’s long. Reader discretion advised.


For the third night in a row, I woke up in the early morning before dawn, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I sat up in my room and tried to calm down. The last two days, I didn’t remember my dreams. Today, I absolutely do. I got up, washed my face, and now I’m sitting here typing this.

I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep since the Isla Vista shooting.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ve got a lot on my mind right now. I just graduated grad school. I was just on the west coast for an unbelievable WyrdCon. I’ve got a fantastic book project I’m working on. I’m…

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Dear Cancer Part 3

The odds on surviving cancer are improving but we’re not there yet. Next time you see a tin, think of this and fill it with whatever you can spare. Then see if you can spare a bit more.


Dear Cancer,

Well, it has been a few months since we were last in correspondence and given this past week’s events I thought it was an opportune moment to put pen to paper again.

I don’t mean to be rude but you didn’t bloody keep your side of the bargain did you?! I asked you really politely to let the chemotherapy subdue you and help me to feel less pain. All you had to do was in essence lose a little weight and go to sleep. Then we could have continued our symbiosis for a good while longer. But you didn’t want to play did you? No doubt for your own dubious reasons.

Scrolling through the CT pictures detailing every nook and cranny of the inside of my body on Tuesday left me feeling deflated to say the least. Perhaps more accurately an overwhelming feeling of “what’s was the point…

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In my view, any word can be offensive if it is used to demean, to hurt, to marginalise, or to belittle. Words can start out meaning one thing and then acquire new connotations – some more positive such as ‘gay’ and others more negative like ‘queer’. These two confuse the heck out of many older people who haven’t fully made the shift. So what’s a handy rule of thumb? Well, it seems to me that if the people to whom a currently derogatory word is applied don’t use it themselves about themselves, you shouldn’t use it at all. If they do use it themselves about themselves, you should only use it in a context of mutual trust and never to be derogatory.

The post by John Franklin Stephens about the use of the word ‘retard’ is an exemplar of balance, consideration, and thoughtful opinion. Just the opposite of the way in which Ann Coulter, a lawyer, used it to describe Obama recently. Please follow the link to read John’s open letter.

The World of Special Olympics

The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night’s Presidential debate.

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child…

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You have to hope transparency would address behaviours of this kind, but it is alarming to think people feel the practice is acceptable. It isn’t. At best, good work doesn’t see the light of day and at worst, life-changing, world-changing, innovation is suppressed. We are better than that, surely?

When Bad Science Persists on the Internet (via The Scholarly Kitchen)

Persistence and accessibility of information via the internet has been one of its major assets. Unfortunately, that’s also its major flaw. When scientific work is modified, retracted, withdrawn, discredited, there is no real way in which the majority of us can be sure of avoiding the old or dated and finding the best and most creditable material.

This article makes the case, with examples, for enduring responsibility by publishers of whatever kind in the governance of the material they put out.

For me, there is also the matter of impact and what that means. Academics seek publication in ‘high impact’ journals but clearly, these are not the ones being read by the public. The ones most people track down are essentially ‘low impact’ but, ironically, probably have more actual effect than the rarefied publications to which we aspire. So what, exactly, is a ‘high impact’ journal? Well, let’s keep that for another time. For now, ensuring the eradication of discredited or just pre-modified material is a fine objective.

When Bad Science Persists on the Internet Search Google for the phrase "ileal-lymphoidnodular hyperplasia," and you are likely to find several free copies of a popular medical article hosted on public websites around the Internet. The problem is, this article was retracted in February 2010, the result of a investigation that ultimately found the paper fraudulent and stripped its author of the right to practice medicine. If the medical terminology of this paper is still confusing you, thi … Read More

via The Scholarly Kitchen