This week, Privacy International published a report—Your mental health for sale—which explored how mental health websites handle user data. The digital rights nonprofit looked at 136 mental health webpages across Google France, Google Germany and the UK version of Google, according to the report. They chose websites based on advertised links and featured page search results for depression-related terms in French, German, and English, and also included the most visited sites according to web analytics service SimilarWeb.
Webxray’s analysis found that 76.04 percent of the webpages had trackers for marketing purposes—80.49 percent of the pages in France, 61.36 percent of the pages in Germany, and 86.27 percent of them in the UK. Among the third-party trackers also included the likes of advertising services from Google, Facebook, and Amazon, with Google trackers being the most present, followed by Facebook and Amazon.
A deeper dive into a subset of these websites—the first three Google search results for “depression test” in the three countries—also indicated some more specific and egregious ways in which these trackers are shilling some of our most intimate data. For instance, among the findings from that additional analysis, Privacy International found that some of the depression test websites stored user’s responses and shared them along with their test results with third parties. They also found that two depression test websites use Hotjar, an online feedback tool that can record what someone types and clicks on a webpage. It’s not difficult to imagine how such data—responses to a depression test—can be exploited.