BetterHelp, an online mental health company owned by Teladoc, has agreed to pay $7.8 million to settle charges that it shared consumers’ sensitive health information with third-party media companies including Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused the company of sharing consumer data without their consent over a seven-year period upto 2020. The settlement prohibits BetterHelp from sharing personal health information with third parties for marketing purposes in future, and requires the entity to amend its data usage practices. As part of the settlement,
As part of the settlement, BetterHelp must receive clear permission from their consumers before sharing personal health information with third parties, direct the third parties in question to delete BetterHelp consumers’ personal health data, implementa comprehensive privacy program, and delete PHI after an agreed period of time has elapsed. BetterHelp will be banned from disclosing the healthcare data of their customers for advertising in future.
. The FTC also alleged that BetterHelp promised consumers that it would not disclose their personal health information except in circumstances where information is highly limited. Despite this, BetterHelp allegedly shared consumers’ health questionnaire information to the following entites for marketing purposes
The FTC stated that BetterHelp used the information to retarget their commodities to consumers, which led to an influx of tens of thousands of new consumers, in addition to revenue accumulating to many millions of dollars. The settlement will partially refund consumers who used BetterHelp between the three year period between 2017 and 2020. This is the first FTC action that will see funds returned directly to consumers due to their data being compromised. The FTC commissioners voted unanimously, at a rate of four to zero, to issue the complaint against BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a range of online mental health services, including counseling aimed at a variety of target consumers including teenagers and members of the LGBTQ community. Consumers interested in availing of care through BetterHelp services are required to complete a questionnaire that asks for sensitive information. These questions are posed to assess the level of care required and may question individuals whether they experience depression or suicidal ideation. BetterHelp also requires a more basic level of information to identify the individual, including their date of birth and contact details, before assigning their customer a suitable professional. BetterHelp were not obliged to admit wrongdoing for the settlement, and the entity stated that it remains committed to member privacy in a statement given via their social outlets. The company also stated that data sharing for targeted advertising is a regular practice that is utilized by the health providers and brands globally to achieve desirable outcomes.
The charges have not been taken lightly by Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection who commented “BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit. Let this proposed order be a stout reminder that the FTC will prioritize defending Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation.”