The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is requiring online therapy company BetterHelp to pay consumers $7.8 million in a settlement alleging data misuse between 2017 and 2020. This is the first proposed FTC injunction that would compensate consumers whose health data was compromised.
According to the FTC, BetterHelp assured customers it would not share their health data except for the purpose of providing advice. But the FTC alleged that BetterHelp shared customer emails, IP addresses and responses to health questionnaires with advertisers such as Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest.
“The FTC alleged that we used limited, encrypted information to optimize the effectiveness of our ad campaigns so that we could serve more relevant ads and reach people who may be interested in our services,” BetterHelp wrote in a statement. “This industry standard practice is routinely used by some of the largest healthcare providers, healthcare systems and healthcare brands.”
Customers who used BetterHelp between August 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020, when these advertising practices were in effect, are eligible for partial refunds.
“When a person struggling with mental health issues seeks help, they do so at a time of vulnerability and with the expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. a statement. “Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.”
BetterHelp said it has never received third-party payment for information about its customers.
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 they’ve shared. BetterHelp is also directed to obtain explicit consent before disclosing customer health information to third parties, and to develop a more comprehensive privacy program.
“This settlement, which is not an admission of wrongdoing, allows us to remain focused on our mission to help millions of people around the world access quality therapy,” BetterHelp wrote in its statement.