Your mental health for sale

Over the past decade targeted advertisement has become exponentially more invasive. To enable targeted advertisement as it is common today, massive amounts of data about individuals are collected, shared and processed. In practice, this means that most of what you do online - such as the websites you visit, the apps that you use, what you do on them, what you watch, what you buy, what you read, your location and your interests etc. – is being tracked, shared and used to profile you.

To understand how data relating to mental health is currently protected, Privacy International analysed 136 popular mental health web pages related to depression in France, Germany and the UK. We also selected a small sub-set of online depression tests for further analysis.

Our findings are dismaying and raise serious concerns about the ways in which these websites treat people's data. What happens when you visit a website relating to mental health matters. Information that reveals when exactly someone is feeling low or anxious - especially if combined with other data about their interests and habits - can be misused to target people when they are at their most vulnerable.

From the 75% of web pages we analysed that embed marketing trackers (some of which engage in RTB), to depression tests that share your answers with third parties, our report shows that many mental health websites don’t take the privacy of their visitors as seriously as they should. Some websites treat the personal data of their visitors as a commodity, while failing to meet their obligations under European data protection and privacy laws.

Shame and silence around mental health problems can be as bad as the problem itself and Privacy International supports campaigns that aim to change the way we all think and act about mental health. Privacy International fights for a world in which people are in control of their data and the technology they use, and in which governments and companies are no longer able to use technology to monitor, track, analyse, profile, and ultimately manipulate and control us. 

Read the full report