Protecting user privacy and rights in academic data-sharing partnerships: Principles from a pilot program at crisis text line

Anthony R. Pisani*, Nitya Kanuri, Bob Filbin, Carlos Gallo, Madelyn Gould, Lisa Soleymani Lehmann, Robert Levine, John E. Marcotte, Brian Pascal, David Rousseau, Shairi Turner, Shirley Yen, Megan L. Ranney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Data sharing between technology companies and academic health researchers has multiple health care, scientific, social, and business benefits. Many companies remain wary about such sharing because of unaddressed concerns about ethics, data security, logistics, and public relations. Without guidance on these issues, few companies are willing to take on the potential work and risks involved in noncommercial data sharing, and the scientific and societal potential of their data goes unrealized. In this paper, we describe the 18-month long pilot of a data-sharing program led by Crisis Text Line (CTL), a not-for-profit technology company that provides a free 24/7 text line for people in crisis. The primary goal of the data-sharing pilot was to design, develop, and implement a rigorous framework of principles and protocols for the safe and ethical sharing of user data. CTL used a stakeholder-based policy process to develop a feasible and ethical data-sharing program. The process comprised forming a data ethics committee; identifying policy challenges and solutions; announcing the program and generating interest; and revising the policy and launching the program. Once the pilot was complete, CTL examined how well the program ran and compared it with other potential program models before putting in place the program that was most suitable for its organizational needs. By drawing on CTL’s experiences, we have created a 3-step set of guidelines for other organizations that wish to develop their own data-sharing program with academic researchers. The guidelines explain how to (1) determine the value and suitability of the data and organization for creating a data-sharing program; (2) decide on an appropriate data sharing and collaboration model; and (3) develop protocols and technical solutions for safe and ethical data sharing and the best organizational structure for implementing the program. An internal evaluation determined that the pilot satisfied CTL’s goals of sharing scientific data and protecting client confidentiality. The policy development process also yielded key principles and protocols regarding the ethical challenges involved in data sharing that can be applied by other organizations. Finally, CTL’s internal review of the pilot program developed a number of alternative models for sharing data that will suit a range of organizations with different priorities and capabilities. In implementing and studying this pilot program, CTL aimed both to optimize its own future data-sharing programs and to inform similar decisions made by others. Open data programs are both important and feasible to establish. With careful planning and appropriate resources, data sharing between big data companies and academic researchers can advance their shared mission to benefit society and improve lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11507
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Cooperative behavior
  • Crisis intervention
  • Data sharing
  • Ethics, business
  • Industry
  • Information dissemination
  • Privacy
  • Technology
  • Text messaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


Dive into the research topics of 'Protecting user privacy and rights in academic data-sharing partnerships: Principles from a pilot program at crisis text line'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this