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Crisis Text Line tried to monetize its users. Can big data ever be ethical?

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Mashable, February 2022

Years after Nancy Lublin founded Crisis Text Line in 2013, she approached the board with an opportunity: What if they converted the nonprofit’s trove of user data and insights into an empathy-based corporate training program? The business strategy could leverage Crisis Text Line’s impressive data collection and analysis, along with lessons about how to best have hard conversations, and thereby create a needed revenue stream for a fledgling organization operating in the woefully underfunded mental health field. 

The crisis intervention service is actually doing well now; it brought in $49 million in revenue in 2020 thanks to increased contributions from corporate supporters to meet pandemic-related needs and expansion, as well as a new round of philanthropic funding. But in 2017, Crisis Text Line’s income was a relatively paltry $2.6 million. When Lublin proposed the for-profit company, the organization’s board was concerned about Crisis Text Line’s long-term sustainability, according to an account recently published by founding board member danah boyd

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