The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed a ban to stop the online mental health service Betterhelp from sharing customer mental health data with advertisers. Additionally, a settlement between the FTC and BetterHelp also requires the company to pay out $7.8 million to customers signing up between August 1, 2007, and December 31, 2020, whose sensitive information has been shared with third-party advertisers.
The FTC is coming down hard on Betterhelp who it claims “betrayed customers’ most personal health information for profit”. FTC’s official complaint states that Betterhelp, despite promising the contrary has shared email and IP addresses as well as information filled in a preliminary health questionnaire during signup with Facebook, Snapchat, Crieo and Pinterest.
These companies then used this information for advertising and identifying customers with similar profiles to further promote Betterhelp’s counselling services. Overall, the FTC’s gripe with Betterhelp is that the company failed to take consent from customers to use their data for advertising in addition to not taking any precautions to limit how the third parties on the receiving end of the data used or further shared this health information.
Overall, if the FTC’s order is approved, Betterhelp needs to do the following:
- Take users’ consent before sharing their data with third parties.
- Implement safeguards to protect consumer health data.
- Limit the duration of time third parties can retain sensitive health information.
- Demand and ensure that third parties who received Betterhealth’s data in the past now delete it going forward.
Betterhelp, on the other hand, claims that its data-sharing practices were in accordance with the industry norms used by other major health providers and healthcare systems in the US. According to the official statement shared on its websites, the company said that it does not “share and have never shared with advertisers, publishers social media platforms, or any other similar third parties, private information such as members’ names or clinical data from therapy sessions”.
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