The Federal Trade Commission is making moves to bar the controversial online therapy company BetterHelp from sharing private mental health information with advertisers.
In a new filing, the FTC announced that it is moving to ban BetterHelp, a subsidiary of the telehealth company Teladoc, from sharing consumers' mental health information with Big Tech companies like Facebook and Snapchat "after promising to keep such data private."
"The proposed order also requires the company to pay $7.8 million to consumers to settle charges that it revealed consumers’ sensitive data with third parties," the filing reads.
In a tweet thread explaining the move, FTC chair Lina Khan said that the settlement "will be returned to the victims of BetterHelp’s deceptive practices" — a bold statement regarding the use of information by the company that made a cool billion dollars last year for its online therapy app.
"When a person struggling with mental health issues reaches out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with an expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy," Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the agency's statement about the order. "Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit."
In recent years, BetterHelp and competitors like Talkspace have come under scrutiny from the psychiatric community due to their opaque professionalism standards, which make it hard to tell whether the mental health professionals that people are connected to through the service are actually qualified.
Last year, a jarring example of this concern came to light when a gay BetterHelp patient said that he was linked with a homophobic Christian therapist who told him his sexuality was wrong — a debacle that, unsurprisingly, left the man traumatized.
With this new FTC bombshell, companies like BetterHelp now have even more to answer for, and as Levine said in the statement, the order will, if approved, "be a stout reminder that the FTC will prioritize defending Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation."
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