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Internet Interv. 2018 Dec 20;15:110-115. doi: 10.1016/j.invent.2018.12.001. eCollection 2019 Mar.

Reviewing the data security and privacy policies of mobile apps for depression.

Author information

1
Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Psychology, United States of America.
2
Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, United States of America.
3
University of California, Irvine, Department of Psychological Science, United States of America.

Abstract

Background:

Mobile apps have become popular resources for mental health support. Availability of information about developers' data security procedures for health apps, specifically those targeting mental health, has not been thoroughly investigated. If people are to use and trust these tools for their mental health, it is crucial we evaluate the transparency and quality around the data practices of these apps. The present study reviewed data security and privacy policies of mobile apps for depression.

Methods:

We reviewed mobile apps retrieved from iTunes and Google Play stores in October 2017, using the term "depression", and evaluated the transparency of data handling procedures of those apps.

Results:

We identified 116 eligible mobile phone apps. Of those, 4% (5/116) received a transparency score of acceptable, 28% (32/116) questionable, and 68% (79/116) unacceptable. Only a minority of the apps (49%) had a privacy policy. The availability of policies differed significantly by platform, with apps from iTunes more likely to have a policy than from the Google Play store. Mobile apps collecting identifiable information were significantly more likely to have a privacy policy (79%) compared to those collecting only non-identifiable information (34%).

Conclusion:

The majority of apps reviewed were not sufficiently transparent with information regarding data security. Apps have great potential to scale mental health resources, providing resources to people unable or reluctant to access traditional face-to-face care, or as an adjunct to treatment. However, if they are to be a reasonable resource, they must be safe, secure, and responsible.

KEYWORDS:

Data privacy; Depression; Mental health; Mobile apps; Review; mHealth

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