Mental Health Apps: Protect Your Personal Data

Brits are increasingly tapping into the digital sphere to manage their mental health. With mobile phones and a plethora of apps at their fingertips, it seems like a practical solution. Yet, the free nature of many such apps may be a Trojan horse that users willingly bring into their lives. As new research uncovers, these ostensibly beneficial tools might be making a secret trade-off – your personal data – potentially putting users at risk of identity fraud or other digital related threats.

Key Points

  • UK adults are increasingly utilising technology, notably free apps, to bolster emotional health, often risking their privacy.
  • A vast majority (74%) of UK adults use tech for emotional support; however, the majority (77%) prefer free apps, which are often less secure.
  • The threat of data misuse is alarming, with 89% of UK users revealing personal information to these apps.
  • Despite the concerning landscape, there are several easy steps to take to help maintain privacy while reaping the benefits of mental health apps.

Mobile Apps: A New Avenue for Emotional Health

Global cybersecurity company, NordVPN, has revealed that a staggering 74% of UK adults rely on technology to buttress their emotional well-being. Among these individuals, 32% utilise their smartphones to monitor various aspects of their physical routines. An array of activities are being tracked, as summarised in the table below:

ActivityPercentage of Users
Sleep patterns19%
Meal tracking17%
Water intake monitoring15%

The Hidden Costs of Free Mental Health Apps

man using a mobile phone

However, there’s a concerning pattern linked with these tech-savvy mental health supporters – their penchant for free apps. Approximately 77% of UK adults using mental health apps opt for the cost-free ones. The issue? These platforms tend to be far less secure than their premium counterparts and often monetise their services by selling users’ data to advertisers and data brokers. Should this data not be held securely and fall into the wrongs hands it could put the user at risk from identity fraud or other digital related scams.

Data Privacy: A Silent Casualty in the Digital Health Arena

When we examine the kind of personal information shared by users with these apps, the potential for data misuse is glaring. NordVPN’s survey showed that a whopping 89% of UK users readily hand over personal details to these applications. A summary of this data-sharing trend is presented in the table below:

Type of Data SharedPercentage of Users
Health Information60%
Email Address56%
Payment Information15%
Phone Contact List9%

What’s more, over half of the surveyed population (51%) confessed to being unsure about whether these apps use the collected data for marketing purposes.

Shifting Priorities: Free Plans Over Privacy Settings

mobile phone with padlock image on screen

A clear indication of user priorities emerges from NordVPN’s survey – 53% of app owners rate a free plan as a crucial factor, nearly double the number (29%) who prioritise privacy settings. These stats paint a picture of a society prioritising short-term savings over long-term data security.

A Damning Verdict on Data Security

Further exacerbating the issue is a damning report from a year ago revealing that a shocking 88% of mental health apps failed to meet basic standards for securing data. From weak passwords to failing to manage updates and vulnerabilities, the laxity in security protocols is evident.

Adrianus Warmenhoven, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, comments: “Our research shows that British health app users share a significant amount of information, including their blood pressure, eating habits, weight, and medical conditions. This also includes mental health data, relating to their moods, habits, and even thoughts. 

“Storing this sensitive information in poorly secured free apps is putting people at risk. 

“Worryingly, less than a third of people in the UK care about privacy policies while choosing a mental health app. This means that most users don’t know where their data may end up or how it can be used against them.

“Without being careful, highly sensitive information on topics such as fertility, mental illness and sexual orientation can be sold on and used to create detailed user profiles. This could then potentially be used to discriminate against someone or exclude them, like by denying them insurance or job opportunities based on their physical or mental health.” 

Staying Safe: Tips for Ensuring Privacy

Despite the concerning landscape, all hope is not lost. NordVPN offers several tips to help maintain privacy while reaping the benefits of mental health apps:

  • Use a disposable email address during sign-up to prevent linking your identity across platforms.
  • Modify the app’s privacy settings to maximise data protection and opt-out of data-gathering processes.
  • Do your homework about the app’s data collection policies and its approach to privacy.
  • Stay clear of free apps from unknown sources and only download from official stores or websites.
  • Only provide essential information for the app’s operation, ensuring that you give away the least amount of personal data.

With an increasing number of Brits leaning towards digital platforms for mental health support, the need for improved data security and privacy can’t be overstated. While the convenience and accessibility of free mental health apps are undoubtedly attractive, users must stay aware of the potential risks and make informed decisions to safeguard their privacy. After all, your peace of mind is worth more than a free app.

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