BetterHelp is the first online therapy company to be ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to pay consumers in a data mishandling settlement. By compensating those whose health data was compromised, BetterHelp is aiming to raise awareness of the importance and severity of data protection and privacy issues.
When BetterHelp customers signed up for the service, they likely had no idea that their health data would be shared with third-party advertisers. However, according to the FTG+, this is exactly what happened. BetterHelp assured customers that their health data would only be used for purposes like providing counseling, but it appears as if this wasn’t always the case. Now, BetterHelp customers are worried about how their personal information will be used in the future and whether or not it will eventually reach unwanted hands.
Critics allege that BetterHelp used limited and encrypted information to better target its advertising campaigns, allegedly in order to improve the effectiveness of its services. Industry-standard practices such as this are routinely used by some of the largest health providers and health systems, with the goal of providing more relevant ads and reaching potential patients who may be interested in their services. While BetterHelp has denied these allegations, they remain unproven.
Customers who used BetterHelp between August 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020 will be eligible for partial refunds if they did not receive the advertised benefits. These refunds will be based on how much money the customer spent on services, not how many issues they solved. This is in addition to any other legal claims that the customer may have against BetterHelp.
The BetterHelp company was found to have illegally profited off of the personal information of its customers with mental health issues by sharing their profiles and recordings of their consultations with therapists without their consent. This is a clear violation of customer privacy rights, and demonstrates just how vulnerable those suffering from mental health issues are to exploitation by third-party services. BetterHelp should be held accountable for its actions and make sure that future companies who attempt to profit off of people’s vulnerabilities do not get away with it.
BetterHelp says it never profits from the information it shares about its customers. The company has long been known for its free service, which allows anyone to seek assistance from experts on any topic. BetterHelp derives revenue from services such as subscriptions and consulting contracts, but insists that it never profited from customer data as part of these arrangements.
BetterHelp is a for-profit company, and its order to limit how long it can retain customer data, ask third parties to delete consumer health data that they shared, and develop a more comprehensive privacy program could signal a change in how companies handle customer data. Advocates say that this type of information should be accessible only with consent from the individual and should not be sold or shared outside of the company.
The BetterHelp settlement is a win for the company and its customers, who will still be able to access quality therapy. The agreement allows BetterHelp to continue its mission of helping people around the world get access to professional help.