- Apr 24, 2016
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed to ban the online counseling service BetterHelp from sharing its customers’ sensitive mental health data with advertising networks and marketers.
A settlement between the FTC and BetterHelp also requires the company to pay $7.8 million as restitution to its users whose sensitive data has been shared with third parties such as Facebook and Snapchat.
BetterHelp is a popular online counseling service providing therapy services to individuals needing support, like people who suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, addiction, etc.
FTC alleges that BetterHelp followed bad practices in handling the data of people who visited its website or used its apps, including those who have not signed up for its counseling services.
The FTC says these practices, which the government agency characterizes as “illegal,” can introduce grave risks to the well-being of vulnerable people in unstable states, threatening to aggravate their condition.
“When a person struggling with mental health issues reaches out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with an expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” commented S. Levine, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Director.
“Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.”
In an official complaint submitted by the FTC, the consumer protection organization says that BetterHelp has, despite its promises to the contrary, shared email addresses, IP addresses, and information users filled in a preliminary health questionnaire during signup, with Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest.
The FTC claims that third parties used this information for advertising purposes and, more specifically, to identify consumers with similar profiles and promote BetterHelp’s counseling services.
FTC further explains that the way the prompts to enter sensitive information were presented to users left them no choice but to disclose that data to sign up for counseling services.
They further alleged that BetterHelp did not secure consent from the subjects to use their data for advertising. Moreover, it did not take any precautions to limit how the receiving third parties can use the shared health information or with what other entities they’re allowed to share it.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed to ban the online counseling service BetterHelp from sharing its customers' sensitive mental health data with advertising networks and marketers.