BetterHelp Shared Customer Data While Promising It Was Private, FTC Says


Online counseling company BetterHelp has agreed to pay $7.8 million to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission that it improperly shared customers’ sensitive data with companies like Facebook and Snapchat; even after promising to keep it private.

The proposed order, announced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday, would ban the same behavior in the future and require BetterHelp to make some changes to how it handles customer data.

According to the FTC, BetterHelp assured customers that it would not share their health data except for the purpose of providing counseling. But the FTC alleged that BetterHelp shared customer emails, IP addresses and health questionnaire responses with advertisers like Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest.

“BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit,” FTC bureau of consumer protection director, Samuel Levine said in the agency’s press release. The commission said the organisation “used consumers’ email addresses and the fact that they had previously been in therapy to instruct Facebook to identify similar consumers and target them with advertisements,” helping it bring in “tens of thousands of new paying users and millions of dollars in revenue.

“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; instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.” Samuel Levine added.

Customers who used BetterHelp between August 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020, when these advertising practices were in effect, will be eligible for partial refunds. The FTC’s proposed order also requires BetterHelp to limit how long it can retain customer data and ask third parties to delete consumer health data that they shared. BetterHelp is also ordered to obtain express consent before disclosing customer health information to third parties, and to develop a more comprehensive privacy program.

BetterHelp said it has never received payment from any third parties for information about its customers. “The FTC alleged we used limited, encrypted information to optimize the effectiveness of our advertising campaigns so we could deliver more relevant ads and reach people who may be interested in our services,” BetterHelp wrote in a statement.

“This is industry-standard practice is routinely used by some of the largest health providers, health systems, and healthcare brands. This settlement, which is no admission of wrongdoing, allows us to continue to focus on our mission to help millions of people around the world get access to quality therapy,” it added.

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