The Federal Trade Commission has fined digital mental healthcare provider BetterHelp $7.8 million for sharing the personal health information of millions of consumers with advertisers like Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo and Pinterest during a seven-year period.
Under the proposed order, which the company agreed to, BetterHelp also would be banned from sharing consumers' health data for advertising purposes.
It is the second digital health company to be targeted this year by the FTC for its use of consumers' health information and the first whose fine will be used to pay affected consumers.
The agency alleges BetterHelp provided consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses and health questionnaire information and the company uploaded lists containing more than 7 million email addresses to Facebook between 2017 and 2018. More than half of the emails were matched with Facebook user IDs, the agency alleges.
Read more: FTC’s enforcement action against GoodRx ‘a wakeup call’ for digital health
BetterHelp, which was acquired by Teladoc in 2015, did not admit wrongdoing. In a statement, BetterHelp said its data practices echoed many of its peers. The company said it has never accepted payment from third-parties for user or customer data.
“This industry-standard practice is routinely used by some of the largest health providers, health systems, and healthcare brands,” the company said. “We understand the FTC’s desire to set new precedents around consumer marketing.”
The FTC also alleges the company used HIPAA certification seals on its website but no government agency or third party reviewed BetterHelp’s information practices for HIPAA compliance.
In its statement, BetterHelp said it has not previously, nor does it currently share private information or clinical data from therapy sessions.
Criteo said it had not been contacted regarding the allegations in the FTC complaint and would not comment further. SnapChat, Facebook parent company Meta and Pinterest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The action follows the FTC’s enforcement action last month alleging GoodRx shared consumers’ personal health information to Facebook, Google and other third parties. The Justice Department, on behalf of the FTC, filed a complaint and proposed order for permanent injunction against the company. Under the order, GoodRx agreed to a $1.5 million fine.
Experts said the FTC’s recent enforcement actions likely serve as a warning shot to digital health companies.