The company is being investigated by multiple federal agencies for its questionable practices, which have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks.
Over 2,000 Incident Reports Shed Light on Recklessness
A Silicon Valley mental health startup called Cerebral may have harmed hundreds of patients by flagrantly disregarding medical standards, according to a cache of documents reviewed by Insider, as well as over 30 interviews with current or former employees by the outlet.
Founded in 2020, Cerebral provides mental health treatment to customers through talk therapy and medication for conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and ADHD.
With people quarantined during the pandemic, it became one of the largest virtual therapy firms in the United States, attracting some $462 million from investors.
Cerebral employees filed at least 2,060 incident reports during seven months in 2021, according to Insider. They show that the company enrolled patients with complex conditions like bipolar disorder, then assigned them to clinicians and other staff members with insufficient training, oversight, and support to treat such cases.
It also put dozens of patients on questionable treatment plans and misdiagnosed many others, the reports say, with company medical providers prescribing potentially lethal combinations of drugs or addictive drugs to patients with histories of addiction.
Additionally, many patients were left stranded without care for extended periods due to technology issues or the company’s failure to retain clinicians.
As a result, Cerebral shuffled patients from one provider to the next and even bungled their prescriptions, sometimes leading them to suffer drug withdrawal or take the wrong medication.
Patients Tell Their Stories
One patient reportedly spent two weeks waiting for a referral to a clinician, later saying she spent eight days in a psychiatric ward.
Another patient told CBS News she was prescribed a drug for her anxiety but afterward could not reach her prescriber for instructions on how to switch to the new medication safely.
“Any time I needed help, she was never available,” she said.
After she did not get a response for six days, she began taking the drug anyway, which caused her to break out in a rash.
“I messaged back,” she said, “letting them know it was spreading and getting worse, and they said that they were still trying to get a hold of that prescriber… They make it seem like they want to help, and then they get you, and then they’re gone.”
A Cerebral spokesperson told Insider that the reports did not highlight enough patients to accurately reflect the company.
“Any incident reports you obtained show Cerebral’s dedication to quality,” the spokesperson said. “You can’t take a relatively small group of incident reports and draw conclusions about our care.”
Two former senior employees told the outlet those reports were monitored by just a couple of people who had other responsibilities at the company, adding that leadership frequently pushed off solving the systemic issues flagged.
Cerebral’s practices are currently being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CBS News) (Fierce Healthcare)
Twitter Roasts Tim Hortons for Offering Coffee and Donut to Settle Lawsuit for Spying on Customers
The company allegedly tracked app users’ movements 24/7 to determine when they visited a competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
A Not So Tasty Compensation
Social media users ridiculed Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons over the weekend for a leaked email in which it offered to compensate customers whom it allegedly spied on by giving them a free beverage and pastry.
Twitter user James McLeod posted pictures of the email Friday, which was sent to affected users of the company’s app.
“You are receiving this email in connection with a proposed settlement, subject to Court approval, of a national class action lawsuit involving the Tim Hortons app and the collection of geolocation data between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020,” it read.
“As part of the proposed settlement agreement, eligible app users will receive a free hot beverage and a free baked good,” it continued. “Distribution details will be provided following approval, in the event that the court approves the settlement.”
The email specified that the free beverage would have a retail value of $6.19 (CAD) plus tax, and the free baked good would be $2.39 (CAD).
In a statement to Vice, Tim Hortons said the settlement is not admission of any wrongdoing and that the allegations in the lawsuits have not been proven in court.
“Add to this the fact that the coffee is absolutely abysmal and it becomes even more hilarious,” one person tweeted amid a flurry of criticism toward the company.
Another added, “Do you think the donut will have the good sprinkles or the bad sprinkles?”
‘Vast Amounts’ of Data Collected Illegally
Suspicion that Tim Hortons had violated its customers’ privacy began in 2020 when a reporter from the National Post found that the company’s app had tracked their location over 2,700 times in under five months.
Last Month, Canadian authorities wrapped up an investigation into the matter, finding that Tim Hortons tracked and recorded the movements of people who downloaded its app every few minutes of every day, even when the app wasn’t open.
Although the app requested permission to access geolocation data, authorities concluded that it misled users to believe it would only gather data while the app was open.
Using “vast amounts” of geolocation data, the company inferred where users lived, where they worked and whether they were traveling, according to investigators.
It even allegedly generated an “event” anytime a user entered or exited a Tim Hortons competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
The investigation found that the company continued gathering data for a year even despite having shelved plans to use it for targeted advertising.
The company, which has committed to deleting all geolocation data on group members, said in a statement that it only used the data in a limited way, such as to analyze user trends.
See what others are saying: (Vice) (The Verge) (Privacy Commissioner of Canada)
Meta Reports First-Ever Quarterly Revenue Drop Amid Widely Criticized Revamp and New Regulatory Issues
The unfavorable quarterly report comes as Meta is facing fierce competition from TikTok and backlash for trying to replicate features of the video-sharing app on its platforms.
Meta Quarterly Report
In a rather dismal earnings report Wednesday, Facebook parent company Meta posted a quarterly revenue decline for the first time ever.
The tech giant said revenues had fallen to $28.82 billion this quarter compared to $29.07 billion a year earlier, marking a 1% decline. In addition to slipping revenues, Meta’s profits also fell from 36% a year prior to $6.69 billion. The company’s stock has lost half its value just since the beginning of the year.
Already, the platform is forecasting a bleak third quarter for revenue, predicting between $26 billion and $28.5 billion, which falls a good deal below the around $30 billion analysts had been expecting.
During an earnings call Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that Meta will need to tighten its belt by slowing hiring and cutting costs.
“This is a period that demands more intensity,” he said. “I expect us to get more done with fewer resources.”
Zuckerberg specifically cited the current economic backdrop as a reason for the poor report and forecast.
“We seem to have entered an economic downturn that will have a broad impact on the digital advertising business,” he added. “It’s always hard to predict how deep or how long these cycles will be, but I’d say the situation is worse than it was a quarter ago.”
Meta’s earnings report comes as the U.S. economy shrank for the second quarter in a row, falling at a 0.9% annual rate and prompting fears that the U.S. is headed into a recession. The decline in digital advertising is driven by marketers pulling back on spending due to that economic uncertainty. These circumstances have also hurt other big tech companies like Google and Twitter, which both posted revenue drops this quarter.
Meta’s Uphill Battle
The situation for Meta, however, is especially concerning because it comes at an extraordinarily tumultuous time for the company as it works to revamp basically every aspect of its operations.
Over the last year or so, the platform has been remodeling much of its structure in response to new barriers it has faced, including privacy changes made by Apple that limited Meta’s ability to collect data on mobile users and made its ads much less effective.
The tech giant also currently faces some of the most intense competition it has seen in years, or perhaps ever, from the growing popularity of other social media sites, particularly TikTok. To compete, the company has been phasing in more features that emulate the popular video-sharing app.
Last week, Meta announced a series of major changes to the Facebook app that will make it more like TikTok. It has also been heavily promoting “Reels” — its version of short-form videos — to Instagram users, as well as investing in Artificial Intelligence to boost content from accounts that users do not already follow on their feeds.
Zuckerberg claimed in the Wednesday call that Meta saw “positive trajectory in engagement trends” in Reels and the AI investments last quarter, but the company has also struggled to monetize the videos, which are not as lucrative as Instagram Stories and the main news feed.
There has also been a lot of public anger at these changes, including from some of the most high profile and influential people on the site like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian. Adam Mosseri, the CEO Instagram, addressed the backlash earlier this week, but insisted that the new features were there to stay.
The changes to Facebook and Instagram are not the only questionable investments Meta has made. Zuckerberg has spent billions of dollars to implement his metaverse virtual reality project. He claims that the exorbitant expenses in the short-term will be worth the investment in the long-term, but some investors are concerned that it will not pay off.
Zuckerberg’s plans for the metaverse may be further complicated by regulatory issues that could undermine revenues and profits. Also on Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission filed an antitrust lawsuit against the platform to block it from buying the virtual reality game developer Within.
The FTC argued that Meta was acting monopolistically, accusing the company of “trying to buy its way to the top.” It claimed that the acquisition was illegal and would allow the company to get “one step closer to its ultimate goal of owning the entire ‘Metaverse.’”
While just pertaining to one acquisition, experts say that the FTC lawsuit is an indicator that it will be difficult for Meta to pursue future deals, which could seriously undermine its bet that the metaverse will be the next frontier of technology.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Verge) (Axios)
Instagram Testing New Tools To Verify Users Are Over 18
The new tools include AI software that analyzes video footage of a person’s face to verify their age.
Instagram Cracks Down on Underage Users
Instagram is testing new features in the United States to verify the age of users who claim to be over 18 years old.
According to a statement from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the tools will only apply to users who seek to change their age from under 18 to over 18. The platform previously asked for users to upload their ID for verification in this process, but on Thursday, it announced there will be two new methods for confirming age.
One of the strategies was referred to as “social vouching.” Using this option, people can request that three mutual Instagram followers over the age of 18 confirm their age on the platform.
The other method allows users to upload a video selfie of themselves to be analyzed by Yoti, third-party age verification software. Yoti then estimates a person’s age based on their facial features, sends that estimate to Meta, and both companies delete the recording.
According to Meta, Yoti cannot recognize or identify a face based on the recording and only looks at the pixels to determine an age. Meta said that Yoti “is the leading age verification provider for several industries around the world,” as it has been used and promoted by social media companies and governmental organizations.
Still, some question how effective it will be for this specific use. According to The Verge, while the software does have a high accuracy rate among certain age groups and demographics, data also shows it is less precise for female faces and faces with darker skin tones.
Issues With Kids on Instagram
Meta argues that it is important for Instagram to be able to discern who is and is not 18, as it impacts what version of the app users have access to.
“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” the company’s statement said.
“When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” it continued.
These changes come as Instagram has been facing increased pressure to address the way its app impacts younger users.
Only children 13 and older are allowed to have Instagram accounts, but the service has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce this. A 2021 survey of high school students found that nearly half of the respondents had created a social media account of some kind before they were 13.
The company also recently came under fire after The Wall Street Journal published internal Meta documents revealing that the company knew that it harmed teens, including by worsening body image issues for young girls and women.