Aussies warned over mental health apps; researchers express privacy concerns

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Google apps are shown on an Apple iphone 5 in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, April 16, 2013. Google will report their earnings on April 18.
Google apps are shown on an Apple iphone 5 in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, April 16, 2013. Reuters/Mike Blake

Aussies were warned over the use of mental health apps after a research by the University of Sydney found that most of the available apps have not been correctly analysed. Together with the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), they examined 61 of the top apps on offer and did not feel like they could endorse any of them.

The apps that the University of Sydney and ACCAN analysed varied from the most popular to the ones endorsed by governments and mental health groups. They were hoping to prove that they can also safely advocate these apps, Catalogue Magazine noted.

However, Dr Quinn Grundy, postdoctoral research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, said they did not feel like they could recommend them. Privacy concerns have been stressed, with Grundy explaining that users were not advised about personal data being collected and with whom their data might be shared, particularly in a global market.

Grundy warned that there was also "really no way" for a consumer to file a complaint when they feel like the apps have violated their privacy, Sydney Morning Herald reports. But it was not only privacy issues that caught the attention of researchers.

Quick-fix promises

The apps, Grundy said, tend to promise that mental health issues will be improved rapidly and easily with no effort. She said quick-fix pledges might be damaging to those who are in need of help.

“Our concern is that focus is on individual and it also sends the message that you're responsible for dealing with your own stress or anxiety or depression,” Grundy explained. She expressed concern that if an app does not work for a consumer, he or she would feel like his problem is too serious or he has failed again.

Grundy clarified she thinks these apps could be really helpful and supportive, but they may also send messages that a user is sick and nothing else can be done. She said increased regulation has to be implemented for moderators of online stores as well as for app creators.

"Although developers are often the target of regulation, there's some big players, the app stores like Apple and Google are really the de facto gatekeepers at the moment," ABC has quoted Grundy as saying. She said the decision is up to them whether or not an app must come to the market, but there is very little regulatory attention on them.

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