BetterHelp Faces $7.8M Fine for Sending Facebook Patient Data

BetterHelp logo.

screenshot: best help

The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for ban The BetterHelp mental health app enables you to share medical information with Facebook, Snapchat, and other online advertisers. A proposed order was issued Thursday includes $7.8 million fine And border Ways BetterHelp may share mental health data to move on. It’s part of a new push by the Federal Trade Commission to get the Internet’s rampant problems with health privacy under control.

“When someone with mental health issues seeks help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with the expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” said Samuel Levine, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Consumer Protection. a press release. Instead, BetterHelp betrayed most consumers’ personal health information for profit.

Federal Trade Commission The application will be open to public comment before the delegates vote on it Final approval. Given that they are They voted 4-0 in her favour The first time, it is very likely that you will get ahead.

Whenever you visit a website or open an app, it is a safe assumption that it will be populated with trackers that are used to follow your behavior around the web. Companies use tracking tools and cookies provided by companies like Meta (Facebook’s owner) to determine which users are most tempting to target ads to, and to measure how well those ads are working.

Along the way, companies send advertising collaborators data about who is doing what on an app or website. When the thing you’re doing is, say, telling a mental health app that you’re having suicidal thoughts, that kind of data sharing is problematic. It can be a crime IF You lie to your customers about how you treat their privacy and misrepresenting how your services are “HIPAA compliant”. That’s exactly what the BetterHelp Federal Trade Commission says.

BetterHelp said in statement. “To be clear, we do not share, and have never shared with advertisers, publishers, social media platforms, or other similar third parties, private information such as member names or clinical data from therapy sessions.”

The FTC says BetterHelp coerced its users into handing over sensitive health information so it could get around and target them with ads, making false promises about privacy along the way.

Screenshot of the BetterHelp interface Covenant health information will remain confidential between you and your counselor.

The Federal Trade Commission says BetterHelp has made many false promises about health privacy.
screenshot: Federal Trade Commission

Federal Trade Commission complaint Includes a number of screenshots of alleged false promises BetterHelp has made to its customers. In one take, pUnder a questionnaire asking if you take any medication, BetterHelp Reassure anyone who feels uncomfortable about their health data.

“Rest assured – your health information will remain confidential between you and your counselor,” said the BetterHelp interface. It would have been more accurate to say that your health information will remain confidential between you, your counselor, Facebook and BetterHelp’s other advertising partners, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In addition to the fine, the order will place many more requirements on BetterHelp. From the FTC press release:

  • obtain positive express consent before disclosing personal information to certain third parties for any purpose;
  • Develop a comprehensive privacy program that includes strong safeguards to protect consumer data;
  • direct third parties to delete consumer health data and other personal data that BetterHelp has disclosed to them; And
  • Determine how long personal and health information can be retained in accordance with the data retention schedule.

It’s been an unfortunate week for the mental health tech business. On Wednesday, competitor BetterHelp Talkspace has faced a class action lawsuit Alleging that the company lies about the availability of therapists on its platform, ignores users’ stated medical needs, and tricks people into signing up to pay a subscription for therapy sessions that they don’t even get.

This isn’t the first time mental health apps have landed in hot water for their data practices. Talkspace in particular has been accused of some troubling privacy issues, but they are numerous Mental health app privacy investigationsAnd including BetterHelp revealed Mishandling of medical data and pervasive misrepresentations about the truth about privacy.

There is a huge misconception about health privacy in the United States. Many people have heard of HIPAA, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, but most people don’t really understand what it does.

HIPAA is not a law that protects all that yours health data. It law regulating health data Just When in the hands of a healthcare provider, insurance company, or other person acting directly on their behalf, such as pharmacies or billing services.

Health apps I operated in a kind of legal gray area for most of the history of the Internet. You can tell your doctor that you’re taking Prozac, and there are strict privacy rules. But if you tell an app like BetterHelp or a website like WebMD, the rules about privacy seem to be no different than if you type in the name of your favorite pizza.

But that all changed in February, when he The FTC issued a historic fine and consent agreement against GoodRxa company that offers coupons on prescription drugs. GoodRx shared users’ health data with advertising partners such as Facebook and Google, without the persons express permission. The FTC just said “Not so fast.”

the The FTC used this case to yank Health Privacy Powerstates that it is illegal to use health data for ads without permission, and asserts that the FTC has the authority to regulate the issue.

It is not at all clear whether that will Hold up in court Because the FTC has reached a settlement with GoodRx rather than having it fight a legal battle. It now appears that the commission is doing the same thing with BetterHelp, implementing new Commitment to health privacy. If the FTC continues down this path, you will likely face a corporate opponent who is unwilling to compromise, and it’s anyone’s guess how the legal system will handle this issue.

“Let this proposed order be a powerful reminder that the FTC will prioritize defending Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation,” Levine said of the BetterHelp case.


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