Online counselling firm BetterHelp will be ordered to pay $7.8 million to consumers to resolve claims that it disclosed private patient information to outside parties, reported Health News.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released a proposed order prohibiting BetterHelp from disclosing consumer health information to specific third parties for the purpose of re-targeting or displaying adverts to users who have already visited BetterHelp's website or used its app.
The California-based business provides online counselling services under a number of different identities, including BetterHelp Counseling and other apps targeted at particular demographics, like Faithful Counselling for Christians and Teen Counselling for younger users.
The FTC lawsuit claims that BetterHelp broke its pledge to keep customer-sensitive data private by sharing it for advertising purposes with Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest.
For instance, BetterHelp made many commitments to keep consumers' personal health information confidential, only using it or disclosing it when necessary, such as when offering counselling services, the Health News report said.
Customers' email addresses, IP addresses, and responses to a health questionnaire that asks about sensitive mental health information, such as whether customers have ever experienced depression, had suicidal thoughts, or whether they are currently taking any medications, are, however, data shared with third parties.
The FTC alleges that BetterHelp gained tens of thousands of new paying customers by exploiting their data to tell Facebook to find other customers who had similar interests and target them with ads for their counselling service.
The proposed order announced on March 2 also places restrictions on how BetterHelp can share customer data going forward, including requiring them to delete any previously disclosed personal customer data and requesting affirmative express consent before disclosing personal information to third parties.
The $7.8 million that BetterHelp is required to pay, according to the FTC's proposal, will be used to partially repay customers who paid for BetterHelp's services between August 1, 2017, and December 31, 2020.
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