Virtual therapy app BetterHelp banned from sharing health data with Facebook and Snapchat for advertising

The FTC banned BetterHelp from sharing users’ data with parties like Facebook and Snapchat for targeted advertising, and has also ordered BetterHelp to pay $7.8 million to some of its users

March 06, 2023 04:04 pm | Updated 04:04 pm IST

A screenshot from the BetterHelp website

A screenshot from the BetterHelp website | Photo Credit: BetterHelp

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has banned the virtual therapy app BetterHelp from sharing users’ data with Facebook and Snapchat for advertising, and has ordered the company to pay $7.8 million to some of its users in settlement.

The app collected users’ contact details, personal information, and other sensitive mental health data, stating that they would protect it. Instead, it shared these details with external firms like Facebook and Snapchat to help them target potential clients with ads.

“For example, the company used consumers’ email addresses and the fact that they had previously been in therapy to instruct Facebook to identify similar consumers and target them with advertisements for BetterHelp’s counseling service, which helped the company bring in tens of thousands of new paying users and millions of dollars in revenue,” said the FTC website.

The FTC has levied new conditions that BetterHelp will have to follow when handling clients’ information, such as getting proper consent from customers before sharing their data, and directing third-parties to delete consumer health data revealed by BetterHelp.

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According to the FTC complaint, information such as email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information were shared with companies such as Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest.

The Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine, said that BetterHelp had “betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.”

In 2020, BetterHelp also falsely denied reports that it revealed consumers’ personal data, according to the FTC.

The action is significant as this is the first time that funds are being (partially) returned to customers after it was officially found out that their health data was compromised.

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