BetterHelp Should Pay $7.8 Million for Sharing Sensitive Data, FTC Says

The online mental health services platform shared data with advertisers, including mental health information, according to the Federal Trade Commission's proposed order.

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Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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Remote therapy company, BetterHelp, is the target of a proposed order from the FTC.

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Online counseling and mental health services company BetterHelp should stop sharing customer data with advertisers and reimburse $7.8 million to customers, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday. The FTC says that BetterHelp shared customers' sensitive health data, including mental health issues, with advertisers including Facebook and Snapchat.

"BetterHelp promised consumers that it would not use or disclose their personal health data except for limited purposes, such as to provide counseling services," the FTC release says. "Despite these promises, BetterHelp used and revealed consumers' email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information to Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest for advertising purposes."

The FTC's proposed consent order would require BetterHelp to reimburse $7.8 million to people who used the service between Aug. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2020. The consent order would also ban the company from sharing health information for advertising purposes and require it to establish "a comprehensive privacy program," tell third parties to delete the data it has already shared and limit how long it can keep such data on hand.

BetterHelp didn't respond to a request for comment. In a statement posted to its website, the company said it followed "industry-standard" advertising practices. "Nonetheless, we understand the FTC's desire to set new precedents around consumer marketing, and we are happy to settle this matter with the agency," reads the statement. 

BetterHelp said its settlement with the FTC isn't an admission of wrongdoing. The company added that it does "not share and have never shared" members' names or clinical data from therapy sessions with third parties. 

The proposed consent order will be open to public comment for 30 days before a final decision is reached.

Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest didn't immediately have comments on the settlement. In a statement sent to CNET, Criteo said it "maintains the highest levels of data privacy and security" and that it couldn't comment on the FTC complaint, as it isn't named as a defendant.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.