Online counseling platform BetterHelp has been sharing users’ data with companies like Facebook and Snapchat for advertising purposes without explicit consent, alleges the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The company, which trades under a series of other names, has agreed to a $7.8 million payout to consumers who signed up for its services between August 1, 2017, and December 31, 2020.
Subject to a 30-day public comment period, the FTC will make a final decision to instruct BetterHelp to carry out a series of responsibilities that could see BetterHelp having to stop sharing personally identifiable information with third parties.
BetterHelp data sharing
According to an FTC document, email addresses, IP addresses, and health status and histories – including current and previous therapies – had been shared with third parties. It explains that BetterHelp “has repeatedly promised to keep [this data] private and use it only for non-advertising purposes”, which has since been found to be false for a seven-year period dating from 2013 to 2020.
It was also found that employees were lacking adequate training for handling sensitive data, and that third-party companies had been given permission in a number of cases to use the data for their own research and product development.
The data sharing took place in numerous instances for a prolonged period of time. Between 2017 and 2018, for example, BetterHelp had uploaded more than 7 million email addresses to Facebook. The platform later matched 4 million of these to existing Facebook user accounts.
IP address sharing had also been used to re-target previous users with more ads in an effort to drive revenue.
In response to the case, BetterHelp explained:
“To clarify, we do not share and have never shared with advertisers, publishers, social media platforms, or any other similar third parties, private information such as members’ names or clinical data from therapy sessions. In addition, we do not receive and have never received any payment from any third party for any kind of information about any of our members.”