The Federal Trade Commission said BetterHelp, a company that provides online mental health services, could have to pay $7.8 million for how it handled customers’ health data.
The FTC said it has proposed a settlement, which will take 30 days to finalize after it is published in the Federal Register.
The FTC is accusing BetterHelp of pushing users to “take an Intake Questionnaire and hand over sensitive health information through unavoidable prompts.” The FTC then said that BetterHelp promised to keep that information secure, but in reality, handed that information to advertisers including Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest.
“Although the exact wording changed over time, the company assured people that aside from a few narrow uses related to providing online counseling services, their private information would remain private,” the FTC said. “Despite those promises, the FTC says BetterHelp used a wide variety of tactics to share the health information of over 7 million consumers with platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest for the purpose of advertising.”
One example the FTC cited was in 2017 as it accused the company of uploading the email addresses of 2 million customers to Facebook.
The settlement would provide partial refunds to customers who paid to use the service from August 2017 through December 2020.
"This industry-standard practice is routinely used by some of the largest health providers, health systems, and healthcare brands," BetterHelp said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we understand the FTC's desire to set new precedents around consumer marketing, and we are happy to settle this matter with the agency. This settlement, which is no admission of wrongdoing, allows us to continue to focus on our mission to help millions of people around the world get access to quality therapy.
"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."