Facebook under scrutiny for suicide alert plan
Social networking site Facebook is facing scrutiny from data protection watchdogs over a partnership with the Samaritans aimed at helping those at risk of suicide.
An agreement with the charity allows users of the social network concerned about a specific Facebook profile to report it to Facebook for review.
How it works
The process involves pinpointing the content causing concern and uploading screenshots of the profile if necessary.
The owner of the profile is sent an email alerting them that concerns have been expressed, and also provides them with the contact details of the Samaritans. The content is then reviewed by a team of Facebook experts, and, if they feel further action is needed, the user’s contact details are passed on to the support charity.
The Samaritans then send an email to the user to inform them that the user’s email address has been passed on by Facebook, and provides contact details for the Samaritans should they need extra support.
The move was taken after cases such as Facebook user Simone Back posted to more than 1,000 contacts on the social network that she had taken a fatal overdose in 2010. However, the alarm was not raised until the next day, and Ms Back died in hospital.
“At Facebook, we have developed industry-leading processes for providing support to people whose behaviour on the service indicates they may be at risk of suicide,” a spokeswoman for the company said.
“This includes building partnerships with local support organisations that can provide on-the-ground help to anyone who finds themselves in distress.”
However, the Data Protection Commissioner’s office is currently reviewing how Facebook carries out this practice. Under the law, companies are prohibited from passing on personal information to third parties, including organisations such as the Samaritans.
“We are continuing to engage with Facebook Ireland on this matter including in relation to the legal basis, if any, that allows for such disclosures to be made to organisations such as the Samaritans in certain cases,” the commissioner’s office said.
“We are however satisfied that Facebook’s approach in this area is entirely grounded on what it considers to be in the best interests of its users.”
Facebook, which has been scrutinised by data protection watchdogs in the past, said it was continuing to discuss the matter with the DPC.
“We will of course take seriously at any guidance we receive from our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commission, on this aspect of our service as we do on other features of Facebook,” the spokeswoman said.
The partnership is managed by the Samaritans’ UK office.
“Samaritans is very proud of our pioneering partnership with Facebook which allows people using the site in the Republic of Ireland to get help for a friend they believe is struggling to cope or feeling suicidal.We know that to genuinely reduce suicide we need to reach people earlier and friends are better placed to know whether someone close to them is struggling to cope,” a spokeswoman for the Samaritans said.
“When we are contacted by Facebook, we send an email offering access to our services and mention all the ways they can contact Samaritans.
“We provide a confidential service to all our callers and we do not pass on any details, unless of course required to do so by law, and this includes any referrals we receive from Facebook.”