Why mental health apps aren’t as private as you might think

Mental health apps are becoming more and more popular. There are however some concerns with this as these apps are not subject to the same medical privacy laws such as HIPAA that protect the information you share with a doctor in person.

The past year has been filled with stress, anxiety and sadness for millions of us, and many people are downloading mental health apps for support. But Consumer Reports warns, sharing deeply personal and sensitive information on some virtual platforms might not be as private as you think.

Mental health apps offer a range of options -- from guided meditations to appointments with a licensed therapist -- but Consumer Reports says they aren’t always covered by the same medical privacy laws, like HIPAA, that protect the information you share with a doctor in person. And even when HIPAA rules do apply, they may not cover all the data an app collects.

“What companies tell you about what they do with your data is often pretty vague and confusing and it’s usually buried in privacy policies, where it can be hard to find,” explained Consumer Reports Tech Editor Thomas Germain.

Consumer Reports looked at several popular apps and found that many of them sent information to third parties, such as Facebook and Google. This kind of data is often used for advertising or other business research. And while it’s a common practice, it may not be something you expect from apps that deal with mental health.

“We didn’t see these apps sharing details about your condition or what you’re telling your therapist. But they may be letting other companies know you’re using a mental health app,” Germain said.

Consumer Reports says you should know if and where your data is being shared.

“If you’re using a mental health app, be sure it’s clear about who will be administering your care,” said Germain. “It’s worth seeking out licensed mental health professionals, and there are plenty of services that will connect you with them.”

Besides apps, Consumer Reports says there are other affordable options if you need mental health support. You will find that here: How to Find Affordable Mental Teletherapy Now - Consumer Reports

But, if you or someone you know needs lifesaving help immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for free, confidential support day or night. Or you can text the word HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.