Governance & Risk Management , Legislation & Litigation , Privacy

3 Lawsuits Filed Against BetterHelp in Wake of FTC Action

Proposed Class Actions Allege Many Privacy Misdeeds by Online Counseling Provider
3 Lawsuits Filed Against BetterHelp in Wake of FTC Action
Online counseling provider BetterHelp is facing at least three proposed class action lawsuits alleging data privacy misconduct. (Image: BetterHelp)

Online talk therapy provider BetterHelp is facing at least three proposed class action lawsuits after earlier this month settling allegations with the U.S Federal Trade Commission that it violated users' privacy by sharing identifying information with social media platforms including Facebook.

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Plaintiffs allege a variety of claims, including invasion of privacy, in suits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California between March 7 and March 23, on the heels of the FTC on March 2 announcing that BetterHelp would pay a $7.8 million civil penalty and undergo 20 years of privacy monitoring (see: FTC Bans Online Counseling Firm From Sharing Health Data).

Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and injunctive orders to stop BetterHelp from engaging in allegedly "unlawful" data practices and activities.

BetterHelp has signed up over 2 million users and as of 2022 had more than 374,000 active users in the U.S., and it earned more than $720 million in revenue in 2021, according to the FTC. Multinational telemedicine giant Teladoc acquired BetterHelp for $4.5 million in 2015.

One of the lawsuits - filed by plaintiff "L.M.," a resident of South Carolina and user of the BetterHelp platform - alleges one count of "outrageous conduct" by the company.

"Defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous and caused plaintiff and the other class members extreme and severe mental distress," the lawsuit alleges. "As a direct result of defendant’s actions, plaintiff suffered harms, including, without limitation, loss of her privacy, emotional distress, lost medical expenses, embarrassment, humiliation, shame and loss of enjoyment of life."

The complaint filed on March 11 by Jane Doe, a resident of Michigan and user of BetterHelp services, alleges that in failing to secure her and class members' personal and medical information, the company "is guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice."

BetterHelp "acted or failed to act with a reckless, willful, or conscious disregard of plaintiff's and class members' rights," says Jane Doe's lawsuit, which is seeking punitive damages in addition to actual damages.

In signing up for BetterHelp's counseling services, millions of consumers entrusted the company with their private information, including their health status and histories, mental health condition, and symptoms and treatment sought, as well as identifying information such as names, email addresses and IP addresses, alleges the lawsuit filed by plaintiff "C.M.," a resident of Texas who signed up for counseling services on the company's website.

The alleged harm caused by BetterHelp's conduct "outweighs any potential benefits" of using the company's services, the lawsuit filed by CM alleges.

Neither Teladoc nor BetterHelp responded to Information Security Media Group's requests for comment on the lawsuits.

In a March 2 statement, BetterHelp said it never shared private information such as patient names or clinical data from therapy sessions. Rather, it used "limited, encrypted information to optimize the effectiveness of our advertising campaigns so we could deliver more relevant ads and reach people who may be interested in our services."

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

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