On Mental Health, Data, and Why Your Privacy Matters

A message to our community:

Our mission is at the intersection of empathy and innovation – we promote mental well-being for people wherever they are. Our service helps support thousands of people a day in their darkest moments and saves lives. Technology enables our community to show up for people in pain and facilitates the empathetic human connection between you, our trained volunteer Crisis Counselors, and texters in need.

Data helped build the high-quality service you know today and enables us to continually improve. Data from over 200 million messages informs the triage algorithm that is 86% effective at identifying texters at imminent risk, connecting them to a volunteer faster, and ensuring they get equitable high-quality service across demographics. Data told us that teens were struggling and they needed more help at night. Data also tells us when we need more volunteers on the Platform to respond to high volume.

When people question what we do with data, they are right to do so. Any time anyone or any company has personal information of others, they should be held to a higher standard. Since the beginning we have been aware of the challenges and sensitivities related to data privacy and we take the responsibility of protecting texter and volunteer confidentiality very seriously. This is especially important for organizations like Crisis Text Line that meet people in their most vulnerable moments. We have made significant investments in protecting user data and engage third party evaluators to help us continually improve. We anonymize our data by removing personally-identifiable information (PII)— including names, addresses, city names, zip codes, email addresses, URLs, phone numbers, social media handles and other types of data. Our PII scrubber is designed to be intentionally overinclusive, utilizing robust and broad external phraseology libraries and targeted detectors. Our data scrubbing process has been substantiated by independent privacy watchdogs such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which called Crisis Text Line “a model steward of personal data,” and leading academics at the Journal of Medical Internet Research who found that Crisis Text Line’s practices yielded key principles and protocols for ethical data sharing. As part of our holistic approach to data privacy, our PII scrubber is just one of the measures that we take to protect the security and integrity of data. We have been purposeful and diligent to consistently evaluate and improve our systems, processes and policies to ensure that we are responsibly, safely and securely protecting the data and privacy of our texters and volunteers. 

I know there has been some recent news about how we share our data. To be clear, we do not sell or share personally identifiable data with any company. We partner with community organizations to reach more people with our service and collaborate with for-profit companies to provide support to vulnerable employees and customers. When working with these partners, we share aggregated data similar to what we share publicly at www.crisistrends.org. We occasionally choose to share fully scrubbed and anonymized data sets in secure environments that we control when we think that there will be a positive impact as a result. The most common example of this is our Research Collaborations work when we partner with reputable academic institutions.  The only for-profit partner that we have shared fully scrubbed and anonymized data with is Loris.ai. We founded Loris.ai, to leverage the lessons learned from operating our service to make customer support more human and empathetic. Loris.ai is a for-profit company that helps other for-profit companies employ de-escalation techniques in some of their most notoriously stressful and painful moments between customer service representatives and customers. We do not share personally identifiable information with Loris.ai or any other company. 

Our vision is to build a more empathetic world where no one feels alone. This applies to everyone, not just for the people who text us. We remain steadfast in this commitment and know we can’t do that alone. You, our community of volunteers, are what drives our work to build a more empathetic world. You are there for every texter in pain—whether they are stressed about school or thinking about ending their life. Your empathy takes a Platform with an innovative algorithm from a tech tool to something that touches, transforms, and saves people’s lives. Thank you for the work you do to make this vision a reality.

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