The Federal Trade Commission finalized an order requiring online counseling service BetterHelp to pay $7.8 million and prohibiting it from sharing consumers’ health data for advertising, resolving allegations the firm shared consumers’ sensitive health data with third parties such as Facebook and Snapchat for advertising after promising to keep such data private.
In an action first announced in March, the FTC charged that BetterHelp used and disclosed consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information to Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest for advertising purposes despite promising consumers that it would only use or disclose personal health data for limited purposes.
The $7.8 million that BetterHelp is paying as part of the order will be used to provide partial refunds to consumers. In addition to the prohibition on disclosing health data for advertising, the order, among other things, also bans BetterHelp from sharing consumers’ personal information for re-targeting. It also requires the company to: obtain affirmative express consent before disclosing personal information to certain third parties for any purpose; put in place a comprehensive privacy program that includes strong safeguards to protect consumer data; direct third parties to delete the consumer health and other personal data that BetterHelp shared with them; and limit how long it can retain personal and health information according to a data retention schedule.
After reviewing 123 comments it received on this matter, the Commission voted 3-0 to finalize the complaint and order and send responses to the commenters.