Suicide hotlines are designed to help people — not profit off of them. But the promise of cash is too strong for some companies to ignore. After all, according to the LA Times, data brokerage is a $200 billion industry.
Money has a way of loosening morals. It makes sense that some companies would do anything to cash in on the digital gold rush and betray people’s trust in their darkest moments. Famous for its mental health support lines, Crisis Text Line is a free, 24/7 text-based mental health resource people use to cope with trauma, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and more.
As Kim always says, “If it’s free, you’re the product.” A bombshell report from Politico confirms her motto. According to the report, Crisis Text Line shares customer data with Loris.ai for cash.
Here’s the full story
When you share your darkest moments with Crisis Text Line, you shouldn’t expect your secrets to stay between you and the app. According to Politico, it shares that information with a for-profit company.
Say you admit you’re struggling with anxiety or suicidal thoughts. Crisis Text Line uses that data to create customer service software.
Crisis Text Line is open about its connection to Loris.ai, which creates said software. Posts on its blog admit that Crisis Text Line is the majority shareholder in Loris.ai and that the two companies share a founder and CEO, Nancy Lublin.
“Maybe it’s a start-up cliché, but Loris.ai actually will make the world a better place,” according to a blog post on the site. This is also how Crisis Text Line keeps its site free to users. It says its data informs training that can make companies “more compassionate.”
Users on Twitter aren’t convinced.
“Crisis Text Line obtains informed consent from each of its texters” is probably better stated “Crisis Text Line asks distressed texters to glance at and okay a bewildering form in order to get help and few refuse because they desperately need help.”
— Julie Carter (@JulieCarterHAPF) January 28, 2022
This tweet refers to the 50-paragraph privacy agreement users see when they first join Crisis Text Line. Most people don’t have time to read it, so they may agree without knowing what they sign up for. Do that and you could be signing away painful moments for company profit.
When you’re in a crisis, you want to get help as soon as possible. You don’t want to waste time researching the app or resource you’re using. But if you value your private data and don’t want this aspect of your life to make a company profit, it’s worth it to do a bit of Googling beforehand.
On the bright side, Crisis Text Line says it’s entirely anonymous. But as MIT Technology Review says, anonymous data doesn’t guarantee privacy. People can still track you down based on personal details.
To protect your privacy, make sure you read up on sites like Crisis Text Line before using them. We recommend you take precautions whenever you use free services, like email inboxes or food delivery apps. Data collection is a huge market and the more services you sign up for, the more you’re putting yourself at risk of becoming a cash cow.