WASHINGTON DC — A popular online consulting firm has agreed to a settlement with the federal government following allegations that the company shared consumer data with social media platforms for targeted advertising purposes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the settlement requires BetterHelp, Inc. to pay affected consumers $7.8 million.
The money would be used to partially reimburse consumers who registered and paid for BetterHelp’s services between August 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020.
The FTC also issued a draft order prohibiting the company from sharing consumer health data for advertising purposes.
“Most of the people’s information that was passed on was email addresses,” said Miles Plant, a senior attorney with the FTC’s Identity and Privacy Division. “Companies like Facebook and Snapchat know exactly how to decode this information to match this information directly with users’ user profiles.”
The FTC said it didn’t just affect people who had signed up for consulting services with the company — even people who had just visited the website or app could also potentially have shared their information. sensitive.
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We asked the FTC if this raised concerns that consumers in need of mental health treatment were hesitant to seek help due to companies allegedly sharing consumer data.
“We’re concerned that this violates, first, people’s trust,” Plant said. “It will uncover a lot of their own sensitive and secret information that they want to keep to themselves and it may prevent them from seeking health treatment in the future, whether it’s from a health app or a doctor out of fear.”
In response to the settlement, BetterHelp issued a statement which read:
“We are deeply committed to the privacy of our members and we value the trust people place in us by using our services. Our technology, policies and procedures are designed to protect and secure our members’ information so that it does not not be used or shared without their approval and consent.
BetterHelp and the FTC have reached an agreement regarding BetterHelp’s advertising practices that were in effect between 2017 and 2020. The FTC alleged that we used limited, encrypted information to optimize the effectiveness of our advertising campaigns so that we could deliver more relevant ads and reach people. who might be interested in our services. This industry standard practice is commonly used by some of the largest healthcare providers, healthcare systems, and healthcare brands. Nonetheless, we understand the FTC’s desire to set new precedents in consumer marketing, and we are happy to address this issue with the agency. This settlement, which is not an admission of wrongdoing, allows us to continue to focus on our mission to help millions of people around the world gain access to quality therapy.
To clarify, we do not and have never shared with advertisers, publishers, social media platforms, or any other similar third parties, private information such as member names or clinical data from therapy sessions. Additionally, we do not and have never received any payment from a third party for any type of information about any of our members.
The FTC argues that sharing email addresses can actually lead to the sharing of people’s private information and identities.
The agency had this warning for consumers.
“Often it’s easy with the click of a button to convey information about your diagnosis, medications you’ve taken in the past,” Plant said. “We just think people should be careful about it.”
The settlement agreement is subject to a public comment period, at which time the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.
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