Samaritans has been forced to suspend a new Twitter app which monitors accounts for suicidal messages following a backlash from privacy campaigners.
The Radar app, launched just days ago, sends an alert to users when people they follow post distressing messages that could suggest depression or suicidal thoughts.
But critics argued the app breaches people’s privacy by collecting, processing and sharing sensitive information about their emotional and mental health status and called on Twitter to ban it.
Campaigner Adrian Short, who led a petition on Change.org, said: “The Samaritans has no legitimate purpose to collect this information, let alone to share it with other unknown and untrusted people without the subject’s knowledge or consent.
“While this could be used legitimately by a friend to offer help, it also gives stalkers and bullies an opportunity to increase their levels of abuse at a time when their targets are especially down.
“Whether well-intentioned or not, Samaritans Radar goes behind vulnerable people’s backs to encourage and enable other people to make what will often be unwanted and harmful interventions in their lives.”
In a statement the Samaritans said it had suspended the app for further consideration.
“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,” it said.
It continued: “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.”
At the time of its launch Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research and development at Samaritans, said the new tool would encourage people to look out for one another and help people in distress because friends could step in first.
Users who signed up to the app received an alert via email when a potentially worrying tweet was spotted by software designed to pick up keywords.
They were then asked to confirm whether the tweet is a potential worry and receive guidance on how to approach the person.
The app received the support of Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s global head of trust and safety outreach, who said 18 to 35-year-olds were the key audience for the new app.