Data Brokers "Willing and Able" to Sell Mental Health Data
According to a recent study by Joanne Kim, a researcher at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, data brokers are selling Americans' mental health data to third parties, including employers, insurance companies, and marketing firms.
According to the report, 26 companies replied to a request for mental health data from 37 different data brokers, and 11 of those companies “were ultimately willing and able to sell the requested mental health data.”
Some of these brokers even openly advertised sensitive mental health data combined with personal information such as age, ethnicity, gender, zip code, net worth, credit score, and more. With some data brokers, this information was implied to be identifiable data with no anonymization or aggregation put in place.
Mental health experts have raised concerns about the potential consequences of this practice. It’s been suggested that employers could use this data to discriminate against job candidates with mental health issues, while insurance companies could use it to increase premiums. Marketing firms could also use it to target vulnerable individuals with products and services that exploit their mental health struggles.
In addition, the report noted that scammers could buy the aforementioned data to take advantage of people with mental health conditions.
The study found that data brokers can legally acquire and sell this sensitive data from mental health apps, which have seen a 200% increase in usage between 2019 and 2020. Concerningly, these platforms aren’t protected by data protection acts like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The report also found that prices for mental health information varied. For example, one data broker charged $275 for 5,000 aggregated counts of Americans' mental health records, while other firms charged up to $75,000 or $100,000 a year for access to sensitive mental health data.
Many individuals whose data is being sold are unaware that their information is being shared. Mental health apps often have vague or unclear privacy policies that allow them to freely share and sell user data.
In response to these concerns, experts are calling for increased regulation over the data broker industry, particularly when it comes to sensitive information such as mental health data. They argue that individuals should have greater control over their personal data and be allowed to opt out of having their information sold.