A Mental Health App In Canada Is Accused Of Selling Users' Health Data

The proposed class action would represent any Canadian who has ever registered with BetterHelp.

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
BetterHelp mobile app. Right: Entrance of B.C. Supreme Court.

BetterHelp mobile app. Right: Entrance of B.C. Supreme Court.

BetterHelp is facing a proposed class action lawsuit in Canada over the alleged sale of users' data. The affordable online counselling platform is accused of profiting from the sale of "sensitive personal and health information" to advertisers like Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest.

The allegations follow an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which ordered in March that the therapy service pay $7.8M "for deceiving consumers after promising to keep sensitive personal data private."

The U.S. government agency also banned BetterHelp from revealing consumers’ data, "including sensitive mental health information," to third-party companies for advertising purposes.

Users seeking counselling through the platform must provide information about depression, suicidal thoughts and any medication they're taking. During sign-up, BetterHelp promises not to use or disclose personal data except in relation to counselling services.

But the FTC said it found the company "used and revealed consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information to Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest for advertising purposes."

"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 counselling services will protect their privacy," said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine.

"Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit."

BetterHelp responded in a statement that it employs the same "industry-standard practice routinely used by some of the largest health providers, health systems, and health care brands," adding that the FTC settlement was "no admission of wrongdoing."

The company also asserts that it does not share "private information such as members' names or clinical data from therapy sessions" and has "never received any payment from any third party for any kind of information about any of our members." It does not deny receiving ad services in exchange for user data, however, which, if true, would have resulted in revenue for the company.

The B.C. Supreme Court will review the proposed class action brought against BetterHelp by KND Complex Litigation in Toronto and YLaw Group in Vancouver. So far, the allegations have not been proven in court.

Sofia Misenheimer
MTL Blog, Associate Editor
Sofia Misenheimer is an award-winning writer, editor and former radio journalist with a passion for finding hidden gems in the city.
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