What’s wrong with automatically scanning Twitter for suicidal tweets?


As I noted when reporting yesterday’s launch of Samaritans Radar — a Twitter app that alerts people to potentially suicidal tweets made by those they follow — a lot of people really don’t like this idea, particularly those with experience of mental health issues.

The Samaritans are the leading suicide prevention charity in the U.K. and Ireland, providing valuable and much-used counselling services. The new service that has caused so much outrage scans Twitter to help identify vulnerable people, based on keywords and phrases suggesting depression. When it spots a tweet saying, for example, “I want to end it all”, it sends an email to the person who subscribed, leaving it up to them to take further action.

I find the incident to be an excellent example of how modern web services come up against existing data protection law in the U.K. and the EU – from where British data…

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