Mental Health app fined $7.8 million for sharing data

Mental Health app fined .8 million for sharing data

BetterHelp, Inc., an online counseling service, must pay consumers $7.8 million to settle charges that it disclosed confidential patient information to third parties.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a proposed regulation that would prohibit BetterHelp, Inc. from sharing consumer health data with certain third parties for the purpose of retargeting — targeting ads to users who have previously visited BetterHelp’s website or used its app.

The California-based company offers online counseling services under several names, including BetterHelp Counseling and other apps focused on specific groups, such as Faithful Counseling for Christians and Teen Counseling for younger users.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that BetterHelp, Inc. shared sensitive consumer data for advertising purposes with Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo and Pinterest, despite promising to keep that data confidential.

For example, BetterHelp promised at several points in the sign-up process that it would not use or disclose consumers’ personal health information except for limited purposes, such as providing counseling services.

However, Data shared with third parties includes consumer email addresses, IP addresses and responses to a health questionnaire which asks for sensitive mental health information, such as whether consumers have experienced depression, had suicidal thoughts, and are taking any medications.

The FTC alleges that the company attracted tens of thousands of new paying users by using consumer data to instruct Facebook to identify similar consumers and target them with ads for BetterHelp’s counseling service.

The proposed order, published on March 2, also limits how BetterHelp can share consumer data in the future, including obtaining affirmative, express consent before releasing personal data to third parties and instructing them to delete already disclosed personal consumer data.

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This is what the FTC recommends BetterHelp, Inc. to pay $7.8 million, which will be used to provide partial refunds to consumers who signed up and paid for BetterHelp’s services between August 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020 ..

Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Office of Consumer Protection, says, “When a person with a mental health problem reaches out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with the expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy. , BetterHelp has revealed that consumers are the most personal health information for profit. Let this proposed order serve as a strong reminder that the FTC places a high priority on protecting Americans’ sensitive information from illegal exploitation.”

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