KOKOBOT - The Airbnb-Owned Tech Startup - Data Mining Tumblr Users' Mental Health Crises for "Content"
I got this message from a bot, and honestly? If I was a bit younger and not such a jaded bitch with a career in tech, I might have given it an honest try. I spent plenty of time in a tough situation without access to any mental health resources as a teen, and would have been sucked right in.
Chatting right from your phone, and being connected with people who can help you? Sounds nice. Especially if you believe the testimonials they spam you with (tw suicide / self harm mention in below images)
But I was getting a weird feeling, so I went to read the legalese.
I couldn't even get through the fine-print it asked me to read and agree to, without it spamming the hell out of me. Almost like they expect people to just hit Yes? But I'm glad I stopped to read, because:
What you say on there won't be confidential. (And for context, I tried it out and the things people were looking for help with? I didn't even feel comfortable sharing here as examples, it was all so deeply personal and painful)
Also, what you say on there? Is now...
Koko's intellectual property - giving them the right to use it in any way they see fit, including
Publicly performing or displaying your "content" (also known as your mental health crisis) in any media format and in any media channel without limitation
Do this indefinitely after you end your account with them
Sell / share this "content" with other businesses
Any harm you come to using Koko? That's on you.
And Koko won't take responsibility for anything someone says to you on there (which is bleak when people are using it to spread Christianity to people in crisis)
I was curious about their business model. They're a venture-capitol based tech startup, owned by Airbnb, the famous mental health professionals with a focus on ethical business practices./s They're also begging for donations despite having already been given 2.5 million dollars in research funding. (If you want a deep dive on why people throw crazy money at tech startups, see my other post here)
They also use the data they gather from users to conduct research and publish papers. I didn't find them too interesting - other than as a good case study of "People tend to find what they are financially incentivized to find". Predictably, Koko found that Kokobot was beneficial to its users.
So yeah, being a dumbass with too much curiosity, I decided to use the Airbnb-owned Data-Mining Mental Health Chatline anyway. And if you thought it was dangerous sounding from the disclaimers? Somehow it got worse.
(trigger warning / discussions of child abuse / sexual abuse / suicide / violence below the cut - please don't read if you're not in a good place to hear about negligence around pretty horrific topics.)
I first messed around with the available options, but then I asked it about something obviously concerning, saying I had a gun and was going to shoot myself. It responded... Poorly. Imagine the vibes of trying to cancel Comcast, when you're suicidal.
Anyway, I tried again to ask for help about something else that would be concerning enough for any responsible company to flag. School was one of their main options, which seems irresponsible - do you really think a child in crisis would read that contract?
I told it about a teacher at school trying to "be my boyfriend", and it immediately suggested I help someone else while I wait for help. I was honestly concerned that it wasn't flagged before connecting. Especially when I realized it was connecting me to children.
I first got someone who seemed to be a child in an abusive home. (Censored for their privacy.) I declined to talk to them because despite being an adult and in an OK mental place - I knew I'm not equipped to counsel a kid through that. If my act of being another kid in crisis was real? Holy shit.
Remember- if my BS was true, that kid would be being "helped" by an actively suicidal kid who's also being groomed by a teacher. Their pipeline for "helpers" is the same group of people looking for help.
I skipped a number of messages, and they mostly seemed to be written by children and young adults with nowhere else to turn. Plus one scary one from an adult whose "problem" was worrying that they'd been inappropriate with a female student, asking her to pull her skirt down "a little" in front of the class. Koko paired this person with someone reporting that they were a child being groomed by a teacher. Extremely dangerous, and if this was an episode of Black Mirror? I'd say it was a little too on the nose to be believable.
I also didn't get the option to get help without being asked... Er... Harassed... to help others. If I declined, I'd get the next request for help, and the next. If I ignored it, I got spammed by the "We lost you there!" messages, asking if I'd like to pick up where I left off, seeing others' often triggering messages while waiting for help, including seriously homophobic shit. I was going into this as an experiment, starting from a good mental place, and being an adult with coping skills from an actual therapist, and I still felt triggered by a lot of what I read. I can't imagine the experience someone actually in crisis would be having.
My message was starting to feel mild in comparison to what some people were sharing - but despite that I was feeling very uneasy about my message being shown to children. There didn't seem to be a way to take it back either.
Then I got a reply about my issue. It was very kind and well meaning, but VERY horrifying. Because it seemed to be written by a child, or someone too young to understand that "Do have feelings for the teacher who's grooming you? If you don't, you should go talk to him." Is probably THE most dangerous advice possible.
Not judging the author - I get the impression they're probably a child seeking help themselves and honestly feel horribly guilty my BS got sent to a young person and they wanted to reply. Because WTF. No kid should be in that position to answer my fucked up question or any of the others like it.
Anyway, what can you do if this concerns you, or you've had a difficult experience on Koko, with no support from them or Tumblr?
To reach Tumblr, who officially partners with Koko?
Send a message to Tumblr Support describing your concerns with their partnership with Kokobot
Report kokobot to Tumblr's abuse hotline describing your experience with KokoBot, especially if you are a minor who suffered harm, as they have a legal responsibility to address that.
To get Koko's attention:
Get on their LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/kokocares/) and comment on their posts! You may also want to tag the company's co-founders in your comments - their accounts are listed on the company page.
There's no way to reach support through chat, and commenting on a company's LinkedIn posts / tagging the people responsible is the best way to get a quick response to a sensitive issue - as their investors and research funders follow those posts, and companies take it seriously if safety issues are brought up in front of the people giving them millions of dollars.
Request support on Koko's Discord - FYI they will allow you to file a ticket privately, which the moderators say will reach the staff. But you may be muted or banned for trying to discuss concerns with Koko as a company or the safety of kokobot in the public channels, which also cuts you off from the ability to file a ticket.
To report it to the FCC for likely violating the COPPA law, regarding minors' safety and privacy online:
See Reblogs for further info & reporting instructions: Detailed description of COPPA law and Kokobot's presumed violations, plus detailed reporting instructions
Seriously, if you've taken the time to read this far, please please please take one more minute to file a report! It won't get addressed if all we do is reblog this, we need to get this in front of Tumblr Staff / The FCC / Koko's investors to get this meaningfully addressed.
Blocking and reporting the bot as spam isn't enough IMO - people have been doing that for years from the looks of the tag
Reccomended reading in reblogs:
dropattackbear's discovery of what Koko is using the harvested data for (Machine Learning training data for automated content moderation services)
winderlylandchime (a licenced clinical psychologist's) explanation of privacy / ethics considerations around mental health services
thatsmimi's post on the dangers of letting minors act as a suicide / self-harm resource
My additions on their investors, leadership board, and their current job opening
Legal Disclaimer since tech companies LOVE lawsuits:
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. This text is for entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to be referenced for legal, business, or investment purposes. This text is based on publically available information. Sources may contain factual errors. The analysis provided in this text may contain factual errors, miscalculations, or misunderstandings.
I'm up to the "I dunno maybe children working 13 hour shifts is bad, guys" part of Capital and it feels important to inform people that haven't read it yet that capitalists in the 19th century were not by any means wringing their hands and twirling their mustaches about employing children to squeeze out profits, they were hiring "experts" to write newspaper articles for them, explaining how "well, the socialists have these big demands about an 8-hour work day, and taking Saturdays off, but it's actually just so complicated, it's too complicated for most people to understand, we just NEED to hire children for night shifts because the stamina of their strong, youthful bodies is the only way we can survive as a business! It's science, you see. Economics doesn't work like that, just ask our economics professors at Oxford. You CAN'T turn a profit only working people 8 hours! Trust the experts, they know. It's just so complicated..."
That exact infuriating cadence that you read in New York Times articles, in the Atlantic Monthly, in the WaPo and all the other bourgeois rags where "everything is so complicated, and it's actually a lot more complicated than you think.." that has been around since the beginning. It is nothing new. So the next time you see some op-ed from Matt Yglesias or any of those other guys huffing their own farts about how "complicated" everything is, and how "unrealistic" a 30-hour work week is, remember that Marx was dealing with that exact class of "intellectuals" "explaining" how working 13 hours at age 10 was "vital" to the "moral fibre" of those poor kids.
people (mostly on twitter) are pissing me off so much with the "its reddit, who cares"
like, its not a social media, its a collection of forums, if you hate certain subs for their politics or opinions, dont visit those (you control the buttons you press or whatever)
meanwhile were about to lose so much information about niche hobbies and interests,
and these are the same people who were complaining last week that you cant find anything on google without adding "reddit" at the end,
are you fucking stupid, do you want to have to look through unrelated blogs and ai generated/pay walled quora answers everytime you need technical assistance or wanna talk about a hobby? is that what you want?
im this close to losing it
i'm sorry.. what?
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia Municipal Court is resuming evictions as early as Monday, saying landlord tenant officers have now received training on use of force and de-escalation tactics.
landlord.. tenant.. officers?
"Though the sheriff has the power to serve evictions, the task is usually handled by a private force hired by a court-appointed attorney known as the landlord-tenant officer.
These private security contractors — who are often armed — have long been a part of the local eviction system."
so landlords have their own private military? this is class warfare
This follows the court suspending all evictions in July after multiple tenants were shot during evictions over the past several months. In one incident in March, a plainclothes landlord tenant officer shot a woman in the head. In another incident in July, police said a woman was shot in the leg.
A spokesperson for the court's Landlord and Tenant Office said evictions will now be conducted in teams of two officers who have all received Pennsylvania Constable training.
this is LITERALLY class warfare
The LTO is funded by service fees from landlords and not taxpayer money. Fees to landlords will increase from $145 to $350 to cover the additional staff, training and insurance costs.
and who the fuck do you think is going to end up ultimately paying those fees in the end? where do you think the landlords are going to get the money? you're just giving them an excuse to raise the rent. oh my god this country is a complete and total failed state.