For the second time in as many months, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week announced a settlement alleging that a company’s use and disclosure of consumers’ health information for online advertising violated the law. The BetterHelp settlement indicates that the FTC takes a broad view of what constitutes “health information,” but it raises questions about how the FTC will apply its reinterpretation of the Health Breach Notification Rule under its September 2021 policy statement.
Overview of the FTC’s Broad View of “Health Information”
BetterHelp is an online counseling service that has registered more than 2 million users since its 2013 inception. When a consumer visits the site, the FTC alleges that she is “immediately prompted to begin” Better Help’s intake questionnaire that asks questions about the consumer’s history of therapy, current mental state, and religious beliefs among other characteristics, and then provides an email address and other information to create an account.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the company violated the FTC Act through its use of advertising pixels or web beacons and by uploading consumers’ “health information” to ad platforms for retargeting and to reach additional prospects. In the FTC’s view, the “health information” that BetterHelp disclosed not only included information about consumers’ past use or current enrollment in the company’s services but also their interest in obtaining therapy. This information was sufficient to “reveal” that consumers were “seeking mental health treatment.”
Continue Reading FTC to Advertisers: We’re Tracking Your Use of Health Information