BetterHelp Lawsuits Filed Over Data Privacy Issues
Last Updated on April 17, 2023
Attorneys working with ClassAction.org are no longer investigating this matter. The information here is for reference only. A list of open investigations and lawsuits can be viewed here.
At A Glance
- This Alert Affects:
- Anyone who used BetterHelp.com, TeenCounseling.com, PrideCounseling.com, FaithfulCounseling.com, ReGain.us or their associated apps.
- What’s Going On?
- At least two proposed class actions have been filed following allegations that BetterHelp, which operates each of the websites listed above, broke its privacy promises with consumers and shared their personal and health information with Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat and other third-party advertising platforms.
- How Could a Lawsuit Help?
- If successful, the proposed class action lawsuits could provide compensation to patients who had their information unlawfully shared. It could also force an order requiring the company to make changes to both its data collection and marketing practices.
Attorneys working with ClassAction.org would like to hear from individuals who used any of the websites listed below (or their associated apps), all of which are owned and operated by BetterHelp, Inc.:
Allegations have surfaced that BetterHelp illegally disclosed customers’ personal and medical data to third-party advertising platforms, including Facebook and Snapchat, to turn a profit and in direct contradiction to its privacy promises.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already come after the company – and now, class action lawsuits are being filed to help those who allegedly had their information disclosed without their knowledge or consent.
BetterHelp Controversy: What Happened?
In early March 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had taken action against BetterHelp over allegations the company “repeatedly pushed” people into handing over sensitive health data that was supposed to be kept private but ultimately ended up in the hands of major advertising platforms.
To resolve these claims, the agency proposed an order banning BetterHelp from disclosing consumers’ personal and health data to Facebook and other third parties for advertising purposes and requiring $7.8 million be paid to consumers who were allegedly deceived into believing the company would keep their information private.
Days after the FTC’s announcement, two proposed class action lawsuits were filed against BetterHelp on behalf of consumers who used the company’s mental health platforms and had their information disclosed to third parties without their consent.
The allegations posed by the FTC and the class action lawsuits do not mark the first time BetterHelp has come under fire for its privacy practices. In February 2020, Jezebel published an in-depth article titled “The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online Therapy” following its own investigation into BetterHelp and how it uses consumer data.
Reporters Molly Osberg and Dhruv Mehrotra wrote that after going through the intake process themselves, BetterHelp began to “silently slip data to dozens of third parties,” signaling to Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Pinterest that they were considering treatment from the platform.
BetterHelp faced additional controversy in late 2022 when TikTok users began to detail bad experiences with their therapists. Around the same time, it was also reported that one BetterHelp counselor had advised a 22-year-old gay man to change his sexual orientation so that he could “reunite with his family.”
What Data Was Allegedly Shared in the BetterHelp Scandal?
It has been alleged that BetterHelp disclosed users’ email addresses, IP addresses, enrollment with BetterHelp and certain responses given during an “intake questionnaire” to third parties for advertising purposes – specifically, to retarget those who hadn’t signed up yet for paid services, find and target potential new users, and optimize its advertisements.
For instance, the FTC claimed that BetterHelp uploaded to Facebook nearly two million users’ email addresses – a piece of data that can link an individual to their specific Facebook account – to place ads encouraging current and former customers to refer their friends to the service.
BetterHelp also allegedly used the fact that someone had previously been in therapy or rated themselves as having a “good” or “fair” financial status – information gathered in its intake questionnaire – to optimize its Facebook ads and find and target potential new users.
In addition to requesting information on finances and prior counseling, BetterHelp’s intake questionnaire also reportedly asks the user how old they are, their marital status, whether they’ve been in therapy before, how they would rate their sleep and eating habits, whether they’re employed, whether they’ve been “experiencing overwhelming sadness, grief, or depression,” and whether they’ve had suicidal thoughts.
The FTC said that BetterHelp also disclosed consumers’ email addresses to Snapchat, Pinterest and Criteo.
In 2017, BetterHelp allegedly assigned a junior marketing analyst who was right out of college, “never worked in marketing,” and had no experience and little training when it came to protecting consumers’ health information to handle its Facebook ad campaigns. It was not until 2021 that the employee was given “any training specific to [BetterHelp’s] business or advertising,” the FTC wrote.
BetterHelp has reportedly spent “tens of millions” each year to market its services. In 2020, for instance, the company spent between $10 and $20 million on Facebook alone.
While BetterHelp is not technically “selling” the data, the platform is ultimately using consumers’ private information to increase its own profits, lawsuits say.
Class Action Lawsuits Accuse BetterHelp of Legal, Ethical Violations
The lawsuits against BetterHelp largely take issue with the fact that the counseling platform repeatedly promised and was reasonably expected to keep consumers’ information safe and confidential, yet ended up sharing it with some of the largest online advertising platforms.
Specifically, one cased filed March 7 pointed out the numerous “privacy assurances” that were posted on pages of BetterHelp’s intake questionnaire. For instance, BetterHelp stated it was asking for “general and anonymous” information and that users could “rest assured” that information submitted in the questionnaire would stay private “between you and your counselor,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also claims that between August 2017 and December 2020, BetterHelp told its Faithful Counseling, Pride Counseling and Teen Counseling users that their email addresses would be kept “strictly private” and would never be shared, sold or “disclosed to anyone.”
Ultimately, it has been alleged that BetterHelp misled and deceived millions of consumers about the confidentiality of their private information and used this sensitive data to boost its bottom line.
In addition, the lawsuits claim BetterHelp broke the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and a specific privacy regulation used to implement the law’s requirements. Under this privacy rule, “no health care provider can disclose a person’s personally identifiable protected health information to a third party without express written authorization,” one class action lawsuit says. Additionally, one suit argues that BetterHelp violated “industry standards,” specifically the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, which has “numerous rules protecting the privacy of patient data and communications.”
It has been alleged that BetterHelp users had “no idea” the company was collecting and using their information – including sensitive medical data – and therefore could not consent to its disclosure.
The FTC also took issue with the HIPAA seals BetterHelp displayed on its websites between September 2013 and December 2020. Specifically, the agency argued the logos were “deceptive” and falsely indicated that a government agency or other third party had reviewed BetterHelp’s privacy and information security practices and determined that they met HIPAA’s requirements. The company ended up removing the seals after receiving a “civil investigative demand” from the FTC.
How Could a Lawsuit Help?
If the proposed class action lawsuits against BetterHelp are successful, it’s possible that consumers could receive compensation for these alleged privacy violations. It could also force the company to make changes to how it collects and uses customer data and how it words its advertising and marketing claims.
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