FTC moves to ban BetterHelp from sharing mental health data for ad targeting

The move to block online counseling company BetterHelp from sharing health data, including mental health information, in preferences and for advertising. As part of the proposed order, BetterHelp agreed to pay $7.8 million to consumers to settle charges that it shared sensitive data for advertising purposes after promising to keep the information private.

This marks the first time the agency has reached an agreement with a company to return money to consumers after their health data was allegedly compromised. The order will be subject to public comment for 30 days before the agency decides whether to finalize it.

If the order is upheld, it would prohibit BetterHelp from sharing data from users (including those who access the company’s website or app without signing up for its services) with select third parties. for ad targeting. The FTC said BetterHelp shared users’ email addresses, IPs and answers to health questions with Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo and Pinterest. The agency says it allows Facebook, for example, to target similar users with BetterHelp ads, which have helped drive tens of thousands of paid users and millions of dollars in revenue to the company. counseling.

The FTC claimed that BetterHelp did not receive explicit consent from users before sharing their health data, which it promised to keep private except for limited uses, such as counseling purposes. In its complaint (), the agency also accused BetterHelp of not limiting the scope of how third-party companies can use the health data it shares with them.

“When someone struggling with mental health issues asks for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with the expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” the director of FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Samuel Levine said in a statement. Instead, BetterHelp gives away consumers’ most personal health information for profit. Let this proposed order serve as a strong reminder that the FTC will prioritize protecting Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation.”

The proposed order, approved by the FTC commissioners unanimously, would require BetterHelp to, among other things, obtain express consent from users before sharing their data with certain third parties. for any reason. The company must establish privacy protocols to protect user data and delete personal and health information after a certain period of time. Additionally, BetterHelp must instruct the companies it says it shares user health and personal data to delete such information from their servers.

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