The big flaw with the Samaritans' suicide Twitter app

by Katy Blake

When the Samaritans' unveiled their "Radar" app this week, they thought they were launching a new age of suicide prevention.

Samaritans Radar automatically scans the tweets of anyone the user follows, and sends an alert when it finds any potentially suicidal tweets. The alerts are generated based on "trigger phrases" which the charity has not revealed. 

Twitter users were quick to point out the privacy issues with such an app. 

The people you follow won’t know that you’ve signed up to it, and all alerts will be sent directly to your email address.
— Samaritans Website

One of the most popular complaints is that the app would make stalking or harassing someone much easier. A stalker wouldn't even need to monitor the tweets of their victim - they'd receive a helpful email alert when their victim was feeling their most vulnerable.

Others claimed that it would force people with mental health issues away from Twitter, isolating them from a potential support network.

900,000 Twitter Accounts

At the end of the first day, the Samaritans announced that the app now had over 1,500 subscribers, and was monitoring 900,000 Twitter feeds. 

The next day, the app generated 258 alerts - but only 10 of those were deemed to be genuine. The high fail rate is a big drawback, even without the privacy concerns.


On Thursday, the Samaritans responded to privacy concerns by announcing that it would allow individual users to be added to a whitelist. This list was originally created for companies who regularly tweet using words or phrases that the app would pick up on.

In order to opt out, a user must follow @Samaritans on Twitter, and send a direct message asking for removal. All requests will be actioned within 72 hours.

In developing the app, we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken and believe that this app does not breach data protection legislation.
— A Samaritans statement

While there is some disagreement on whether current guidelines are breached, if the new Data Protection Regulations are passed in their current form, the app will certainly be in breach for failing to gain "explicit consent". 

What do you think of the app? Would you mind being monitored on Twitter?