The Headspace App overcharges users who turn to its features for relief from anxiety, stress and lack of focus.
The app makes initial downloads free for users. Continual subscriptions become paid after an initial period of ten days.
“I ended up being ripped off by over $300 by the Headspace app, which was humiliating and devastating to me”, said Nadia*, a Sydney-based chef.
“I started using the app because I was overworked, unable to get enough rest, struggling professionally and emotionally — the usual ‘chef life’ stuff.”
“What sucks the most is that I started using the app to feel better about myself — I wanted to build my confidence and find more calm — and in the end it the whole process made me feel like a failure and a fool, which has only just increased my anxiety.”
Headspace App is most closely aligned with mindfulness meditation, which is, at its roots, Buddhist. Mindfulness has become a western catchall for monetised meditation that is marketable as a commodity of an ancient religious practice, with religious connotations.
Read the correspondence here between Nadia and Headspace:
Headspace offers basic meditation guides with audio prompts and simple graphic videos, things like cars driving down the street and you as a pedestrian: a metaphor for your thoughts as passing vehicles.
“I was using the app daily and it helped me a lot with feeling calm and happier over a four month period”, Nadia said.
“But basically the app was prohibitively expensive for me on a month-to-month basis so I opted to purchase their once-off yearly payment.
“They bungled the changeover and charged me for both my yearly account and my monthly payments,” she said. “What made it worse is that when I tried to search for the payments in my bank statements I couldn’t find them for the longest time because Headspace sneakily charges through the Apple store.”
Charging through the Apple store means that if you search your account for keywords like ‘Headspace’ to locate payments you won’t be able to find them. Charges can only be located by searching ‘Apple’.
“Because they stopped corresponding with me I assumed the problem had been rectified, which I will admit is kind of stupid of me. But thats one of the problems with my anxiety – I avoid things.
“Actually it turns out they’d been charging me the whole time but via the app store. I added up the payments, when I finally located them, and they totalled over $300.
“Now I feel ten times worse about myself for not double checking everything. But honestly the whole reason I got this app was to get some relief from the gnawing anxiety I suffer from every day.”
Headspace costs AU$19.99 per month, which is a sharp adjustment for users after a trial period that is completely free. Payment adjustments are easy to miss, as no payment prompts are given within the user’s bank statements. Headspace charges via the app store.
The monetisation of meditation is not particularly new. Transcendental Meditation — which was popularised in the West in the 1960s by The Beatles and their guru The Maharishi — is traditionally taught by courses where adherents essentially purchase a mantra. This phrase, often in the extinct and high vibrational sanskrit language, is used as a tool to calm and clear the mind and the meditator keeps it for the remainder of their life.
Individuals often turn to meditation apps and online resources when they are at high risk and vulnerable. They can be sectors of the population who are unable to access professional medical care for mental health issues because of financial burden or shame. Headspace App has become effective marketing itself as a tool that improves the lives of its users. Their website makes repeated claims about improving user’s levels of stress, helping with insomnia and improving focus. The experience of at least some individuals seems to run counter to this.
Headspace App have been contacted for comment.
*Name has been changed.