Online consulting platform BetterHelp is sharing user data with companies like Facebook and Snapchat for advertising purposes without explicit permission, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.
The company, which operates under a number of other names, has agreed to pay $7.8 million 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 the final decision to instruct BetterHelp to comply with a number of obligations that may require BetterHelp to cease sharing personally identifiable information with third parties.
Data Sharing BetterHelp
According to the FTC document (opens in a new tab)email addresses, IP addresses, and health status and histories – including current and previous treatments – have been shared with third parties. She explains that BetterHelp “repeatedly promises to keep [this data] private and only use it for non-advertising purposes,” which was found to be false for a seven-year period from 2013 to 2020.
It also found that staff lacked proper training in handling sensitive data, and third-party companies were in many cases allowed to use the data for their own research and product development.
Data sharing took place over a longer period of time in many cases. For example, in 2017-2018, BetterHelp forwarded over 7 million email addresses to Facebook. The platform later matched 4 million of them with existing Facebook user accounts.
Sharing of IP addresses was also used to re-target more advertising to previous users to increase revenue.
In response to the case Better help (opens in a new tab) explained:
“For clarity, we do not and have never shared with advertisers, publishers, social media platforms or other similar third parties private information such as member names or clinical data from therapy sessions. In addition, we do not and have never received any payments from third parties for any information about our members.”