The Federal Trade Commission has taken action to stop BetterHelp, an online counselling company, from exchanging health data—including information on mental health—with platforms like Facebook and Snapchat for advertising. BetterHelp has agreed to pay $7.8 million to consumers as part of a proposed order to resolve claims that it shared private data with advertisers despite agreeing to keep the information private.
This is the first time the agency and a business have agreed to reimburse customers whose health information was allegedly hacked. Before deciding whether to make the order final, the agency will give the public 30 days to comment on it.
If the order is implemented, BetterHelp will be prohibited from sharing user data with specific third parties for ad targeting, including individuals who browsed the company’s website or app without registering for its services. The FTC asserts that BetterHelp exchanged users’ email addresses, IP addresses, and answers to health questionnaires with Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest between 2017 and 2020.
According to the agency, this enabled Facebook, for instance, to target comparable consumers with BetterHelp adverts, which helped the counselling company gain tens of thousands of paid users and generate millions of dollars in income.
FTC Thinks BetterHelp Doesn’t Have Consent Of Consumers
The FTC alleges that BetterHelp failed to get consumers’ express consent before disclosing their health information, which it had promised to keep private except for specific uses like counselling. The government also charged BetterHelp with failing to restrict the use of the health data it provided to outside organisations in its complaint (PDF).
Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Samuel Levine stated in a statement: “When a person dealing with mental health concerns seeks out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with an expectation that professional counselling services will preserve their privacy.
“Instead, BetterHelp compromised customers’ most private medical information for financial gain. Let this proposed order serve as a strong reminder that the FTC will place a high priority on protecting Americans’ private information from unauthorised use.
The proposed order, which the FTC commissioners unanimously accepted, calls for BetterHelp to do a number of things, including obtaining users’ informed consent before disclosing their data to some third parties for any purpose. The business must set up privacy policies to safeguard user data and erase personal and health data after a predetermined amount of time.
Additionally, BetterHelp will need to give instructions to the businesses that it is claimed to have shared user health and personal data with to delete that data from their servers.
We cherish the trust people place in us by utilising our services, and we are steadfastly committed to protecting the privacy of our members. Information about our members is protected and secured by our technology, policies, and procedures to prevent unauthorised use and sharing.
A settlement has been struck between BetterHelp and the FTC regarding BetterHelp’s advertising practises from 2017 to 2020. The FTC claimed that we optimised the performance of our advertising efforts by using limited, encrypted information to offer more relevant ads and connect with potential customers.
Some of the biggest healthcare companies, systems, and providers regularly adopt this industry-standard practise. Yet, we recognise the FTC’s objective to establish new standards for consumer marketing, and we are pleased to resolve this issue with the organisation.
We are able to continue to concentrate on our purpose of assisting millions of people worldwide in gaining access to high-quality therapy thanks to this settlement, which is not an admission of guilt.
To be clear, we do not disclose and have never shared private information like member names or clinical data from treatment sessions with advertising, publishers, social networking platforms, or any other comparable third parties. In addition, we don’t get paid and never have for any kind of information about any of our members from any third party.
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Betterhelp.com recently received HITRUST certification as part of our continued commitment to privacy. Because of the thoroughness of the control criteria, the breadth of the quality assessment, and the consistency of the oversight, this certification is the industry-recognized gold standard for ensuring the greatest level of information protection and compliance assurance.
We will continue to make industry-leading efforts in protecting the privacy of our members in collaboration with the FTC.
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