Report: Therapy App Eavesdropped on Private Client Sessions

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A recent report claims that former employees of the online therapy app Talkspace allege that the company data-mined patient’s private conversations with therapists and used burner phones to leave fake reviews to boost the app’s reputation.

A recent report in the New York Times outlines claims made by former employees of the therapy app Talkspace, who allege that the company listened in on users’ private conversations with therapists and used burner mobile phones to leave positive reviews for the app in various mobile app stores.

Former employees and therapists who worked with patients through the app allege that the company reviewed anonymized conversations with clients. But there are indications that the transcripts were not completely anonymized, for example, one therapist claims she suggested resources to a patient outside of the app, after which Talkspace contacted her suggesting she advise clients to continue using Talkspace.

The report also focuses on Ricardo Lori, a Talkspace customer support employee who began working for the company after initially being a user of the app. Talkspace had raised more than $100 million from investors at the time and had an office in Midtown Manhattan. Lori appeared to initially feel as if he had landed a dream job, until he was approached by his employers who wanted to read through his chat logs with his therapist.

The New York Times writes:

After he wrote a general account of his therapy sessions on the company blog, an executive named Linda Sacco came to Mr. Lori with an intimate request. She wanted to give employees a sense of a typical user’s experience. Could she and one of the company’s co-founders, Roni Frank, read through two weeks of his therapy chat logs and then share excerpts with the staff?

Mr. Lori thought about his sessions, which included deeply personal information about his sex life and insecurities. Ms. Sacco assured Mr. Lori that they would keep him anonymous. “If I wasn’t such a true believer, I probably would have said, ‘Are you nuts?’ But I was so enamored of the place,” said Mr. Lori. He agreed.

At an all-hands meeting on a Friday afternoon in December 2016, employees gathered in a 13th-floor conference room. The Ping-Pong table was folded up so that Ms. Sacco and Ms. Frank could sit on the floor, cross-legged and back-to-back, for a dramatic reading. Ms. Sacco played the role of the therapist; Ms. Frank played a female version of Mr. Lori.

Lori noticed that employees sitting in on the meeting glanced his way, later a member of the marketing department asked him if he was ok. It had reportedly been leaked that Lori was the client in the re-enactment. The NYT reached out to Sacco about the incident who commented: “Everything was done with employee-informed consent.”

A lawyer for Talkspace commented: “At the time, the employee expressed great pride over their Talkspace treatment with their therapist, and willingly told multiple co-workers that the transcript was theirs.” Lori has stated that he only did so after it became clear that it had become public knowledge within the office that he was the client in the re-enactment.

Lori worked at Talkspace unit 2018 when he was fired from the company. He subsequently sued Talkspace for discrimination and wrongful termination, alleging that he was told that his anxiety and depression interfered with his work. The lawsuit was settled at the beginning of this year, Lori further asked Talkspace to take down his blog post which the company refused to do, which is why Lori then went to the media.

Talkspace launched in 2014 to positive coverage from the media but less than perfect customer reviews. According to four former employees, in 2015 and 2016 the company asked workers to write positive reviews for the app on Google and Apple’s app stores. One employee claimed that Talkspace’s head of marketing at the time requested that the compile 100 fake reviews ina Google spreadsheet so that employees could easily submit them to app stores.

Lori alleges that Talkspace gave employees “burner phones” to help evade the app store’s ability to detect false reviews. Lori stated: “They said, ‘Don’t do it here. Do it at home. Give us five-star ratings because we have too many bad reviews.’”

Read the full report at the New York Times here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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