Mental Health (Isn’t There a Super-Creepy App for That?)

We here at medASTUTE are vocal in our support of proper mental healthcare and that includes a wide variety of resources.  From traditional types of care like counseling and therapy to medication and (especially) becoming a more informed patient/consumer, all these options, and more, should be available to all.  That includes new and evolving technology like “apps” and devices.  But like any rapidly emerging market, there will be growing pains.

Since we’ve talked before about pharmaceuticals and price-transparency in mental healthcare, I’d like to focus on privacy and data-sharing today.  You may not have given it any thought as you “clicked-thru” that privacy policy for your new app.  Or, you got a cool gadget to help you, like a fitness tracker or expensive Peloton or NordicTrack treadmill.  After all, it’s just counting your steps or how hard you worked out, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, in the case of NordicTrack, they can sell all your data, they can call or text your cellphone[i] (even if you have put your phone in one of the “do not call” registries!)  They are explicitly allowed to call, email or contact you with marketing and other offers.  Since they sell/share your personal information, both name/address as well as your workout times, results, progress, etc. it doesn’t require a tinfoil hat to imagine that going horribly wrong.  Like maybe…

“Hello, I’m from YourLifeInsurance company calling on a recorded line.  We recently got information from our subsidiary, ‘CreepyAnalytics.com” and they say you aren’t working-out as much as you told us, not even once-per-week!  What’s worse, you can’t even maintain a 6° inclined run for more than 3 minutes!  I’m afraid we’re going to need to move you from our “fitness enthusiast” tier down to our “couch-potato/stroke risk” category.  Look for your rate increase to begin on the first of the month.”

That sounds far-fetched, right?  Yeah, you wouldn’t actually get the courtesy of a phone call.  You’d just see your life insurance rate increase.  But, what if, heaven forbid, you did die and when the insurance company goes back thru your records to try to find a way to deny your spouse’s claim, they find out things about your mental or physical health?  Hmm, nah, that’ll never happen.  Life insurance companies never look for reasons to deny paying big claims.

Ok, how about something that can happen while you’re still alive?  Maybe you get one of the many “mental health” apps[ii].  Many of these are free (and ad-based, so you KNOW they’re selling your data) but some are “employer-sponsored” and include valuable add-on services like counseling, referrals and more.  As is usually the case, the person paying for the service controls it.  And even the app that Mozilla offers their own employees[iii] “Modern Health” explicitly is allowed to share your personal (and identifiable) data with your employer.  Like maybe…

“Hey Dan, please come into my office and shut the door.  Let’s talk about that promotion you were hoping for.  You know, that position has a lot more stress than your current job and I see from this report I received about you that you’re already struggling.  I think it would be better for everybody if we selected another candidate.”

Aw, that couldn’t happen, right?  Of course not.  Because your manager and HR would have privately reviewed that mental health report on you, and the other candidates, and simply told you either “We’ve decided to go another direction.” or “We feel that another person will be a better fit.”  You would NEVER be told that 3rd-party data had influenced the selection process.

What the heck man?!?! You’re scaring me!

No, we don’t want to scare you away from finding any and every option that works for you to improve your mental and physical health.  But considering how rapidly the options are evolving and how little oversight some products are getting, we want you to have the information to make informed decisions.

Find solutions that work for you, but never stop being an “informed consumer”

#HealthLiteracy

 

 

Endnotes

[i]      Mozilla Privacy Website, 5/19/2022, https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/privacynotincluded/nordictrack-t-series-treadmills/

[ii]    Mozilla Privacy Website, 5/19/2022, https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/privacynotincluded/categories/mental-health-apps/

[iii]   “Modern Health” (https://www.modernhealth.com/), Mozilla Privacy Website, 5/19/2022, https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/privacynotincluded/modern-health/

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