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JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018 Jul 30;6(7):e158. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.9871.

The Complexity of Mental Health App Privacy Policies: A Potential Barrier to Privacy.

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Payer+Provider Syndicate, Boston, MA, United States.
Indian School of Business, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar, India.
Max Institute of Healthcare Management, Indian School of Business, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar, India.
Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.



In 2017, the Supreme Court of India ruled that privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen. Although mobile phone apps have the potential to help people with noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and mental illness, they often contain complex privacy policies, which consumers may not understand. This complexity may impede the ability of consumers to make decisions regarding privacy, a critical issue due to the stigma of mental illness.


Our objective is to determine whether mental health apps have more complex privacy policies than diabetes apps.


The study used privacy policies extracted from apps. The apps pertained to diabetes or mental health, and were all of Indian origin. Privacy policy reading complexity was compared between the two types of apps using a series of 15 readability measures. The universe of applicable apps on the Google Play store, as viewed between May and June 2017, was considered. The measures of readability were compared using chi-square tests.


No significant difference was found between the privacy policy readability of the diabetes apps versus the mental health apps for each of the measures considered. The mean Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 13.9 for diabetes apps and 13.6 for mental health apps; therefore, the mean policy grade level for both types of apps was written at a college level. Privacy policies in the 25th percentile of complexity were also written at a college level for both types of apps.


Privacy policy complexity may be a barrier for informed decision making.


apps; ethics; mobile phone; privacy

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