Article by Yael Grauer: “If you were seeking online therapy from 2017 to 2021—and a lot of people were—chances are good that you found your way to BetterHelp, which today describes itself as the world’s largest online-therapy purveyor, with more than 2 million users. Once you were there, after a few clicks, you would have completed a form—an intake questionnaire, not unlike the paper one you’d fill out at any therapist’s office: Are you new to therapy? Are you taking any medications? Having problems with intimacy? Experiencing overwhelming sadness? Thinking of hurting yourself? BetterHelp would have asked you if you were religious, if you were LGBTQ, if you were a teenager. These questions were just meant to match you with the best counselor for your needs, small text would have assured you. Your information would remain private.
Except BetterHelp isn’t exactly a therapist’s office, and your information may not have been completely private. In fact, according to a complaint brought by federal regulators, for years, BetterHelp was sharing user data—including email addresses, IP addresses, and questionnaire answers—with third parties, including Facebook and Snapchat, for the purposes of targeting ads for its services. It was also, according to the Federal Trade Commission, poorly regulating what those third parties did with users’ data once they got them. In July, the company finalized a settlement with the FTC and agreed to refund $7.8 million to consumers whose privacy regulators claimed had been compromised. (In a statement, BetterHelp admitted no wrongdoing and described the alleged sharing of user information as an “industry-standard practice.”)
We leave digital traces about our health everywhere we go: by completing forms like BetterHelp’s. By requesting a prescription refill online. By clicking on a link. By asking a search engine about dosages or directions to a clinic or pain in chest dying. By shopping, online or off. By participating in consumer genetic testing. By stepping on a smart scale or using a smart thermometer. By joining a Facebook group or a Discord server for people with a certain medical condition. By using internet-connected exercise equipment. By using an app or a service to count your steps or track your menstrual cycle or log your workouts. Even demographic and financial data unrelated to health can be aggregated and analyzed to reveal or infer sensitive information about people’s physical or mental-health conditions…(More)”.