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Why Facebook knows you are using a mental health app

Consumer Reports looks into what kind of information is being shared.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The past year has been unlike any other, filled with stress, anxiety, and sadness for millions of us. So perhaps it's not surprising that many people are downloading mental health apps for support. 

According to Consumer Reports, mental health apps aren’t always covered by the same medical privacy laws like HIPAA, which protect the information you share with a doctor in person. 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,” said Thomas Germain, Consumer Reports Tech Editor. 

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,” said German. 

CR 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. It’s worth seeking out licensed mental health professionals and there are plenty of services that will connect you with them.

If you or someone you know needs life-saving help immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741.