FTC to Ban BetterHelp From Sharing Mental Health Data
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that BetterHelp would be banned from sharing users’ mental health data with third-party advertisers. The move comes after an investigation by the FTC found that BetterHelp had shared users’ personal information without obtaining their consent. The order also requires BetterHelp to pay $7.8 million to settle the allegations.
The popular online therapy platform provides users with access to licensed mental health professionals. However, the FTC investigation has found that BetterHelp misled users by claiming that their personal information would be kept confidential and not shared with advertisers. In reality, BetterHelp was sharing user data with third parties for targeted advertising on platforms like Facebook and Snapchat.
As part of the settlement agreement, BetterHelp must obtain users’ express consent before sharing their personal information with any third party. It will also be required to implement a comprehensive data security program to safeguard user information, limit the period it is retained, and ensure it is not shared without consent. Finally, BetterHelp would have to reach out to any third party that has previously received user data and demand that the information is deleted.
The FTC’s official complaint stated that BetterHelp shared users’ email addresses, IP addresses, and information from a preliminary health questionnaire during signup, despite the company’s promises to keep the information confidential. It claims that third-party advertisers utilized this information for targeted advertising towards users with similar profiles.
The FTC further emphasized the importance of protecting users’ sensitive mental health information. It defines the behavior as "illegal" and warns that it can pose serious risks to the well-being of vulnerable people, potentially worsening their condition.
According to BetterHelp, it has agreed to pay $7.8 million in a settlement with the FTC, but it has not acknowledged any wrongdoing. It claims that its advertising strategy from 2017 to 2022 followed industry-standard practices used by major healthcare systems and providers within the US.
In a statement on its website, BetterHelp stated: “We do 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.”
The BetterHelp settlement highlights the growing concern regarding the buying and selling of sensitive mental health data.