BetterHelp Class Action Lawsuit Follows FTC Settlement for Privacy Violations
by Brian Eckert
Online therapy company BetterHelp faces a Milberg class action lawsuit for allegedly disclosing the private information of its customers to third party advertisers such as Facebook and Snapchat. The lawsuit follows on the heels of BetterHelp reaching a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to resolve similar allegations.
If BetterHelp disclosed your personal data, you may be eligible to join this lawsuit. You do not have to hire a lawyer. Milberg is representing all class members on a contingency basis.
BetterHelp and the Growth of Online Therapy
Like other areas of medical practice, psychology is going virtual. Telepsychology boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now a mainstay in treating mental health and substance abuse disorders.
While online therapy has been around for more than 20 years, prior to 2020, most psychologists treated their patients in-person, even though the technology for telehealth existed. But the pandemic provided the impetus for therapy to be delivered via text, email, phone calls, and video conferencing.
BetterHelp’s revenue more than doubled from 2020 to 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that as of January 2021, 81% of psychiatrists reported seeing 75 – 100% of their patients via telehealth, versus 64% who said they saw zero percent of their patients virtually prior to the public health emergency.
BetterHelp, which calls itself the “world’s largest therapy platform,” predates the pandemic by nearly a decade. Incorporated in 2012, BetterHelp offers online mental health and counseling services through several websites and apps, including those geared toward specific demographics like teenagers, Christians, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Since 2013, BetterHelp has signed up over 2 million users. In 2022, it had more than 374,000 active users in the United States. BetterHelp had revenues of $345 million in 2020 and $720 million in 2021, reflecting its pandemic-related growth. Worldwide, the global online therapy services market is expected to grow by $9.31 billion from 2022 – 2026, with particularly strong growth in North America and the U.S.
FTC Accuses BetterHelp of Using Confidential User Data for Marketing
BetterHelp’s growth story is not merely a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The company has spent tens of millions of dollars per year marketing its counseling services across digital and traditional media platforms.
In 2020, BetterHelp spent $10 – $20 million on Facebook advertising alone. By 2021, it was generating approximately 100,000 new customers per year through Facebook.
In the hierarchy of health information, details about a person’s mental health may be among the most confidential.
When a new customer signs up with BetterHelp, they are required to fill out an online intake questionnaire and provide detailed information about their personal life, professional life, mental health, physical health, finances, and religious and sexual identity. BetterHelp assured its customers that the personal information they provided would be kept private.
However, the FTC says that, despite its privacy promises, BetterHelp shared the health information of millions of consumers with Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and other platforms for advertising purposes. For example, the FTC claims that BetterHelp:
- Uploaded the email addresses of 2 million current and former users to Facebook to target them with ads.
- Disclosed to Facebook the therapy history of 1.5 million people who visited or used betterhelp.com.
- Revealed to Snapchat the IP and email addresses of approximately 5.6 million former visitors to target them with BetterHelp ads.
- Disclosed visitors’ email addresses to Criteo and Pinterest.
The FTC filed a complaint against BetterHelp that led to a $7.8 million settlement and an order banning the them from sharing consumers’ health data with third parties.
Milberg’s BetterHelp Class Action Lawsuit
BetterHelp’s legal issues over its alleged privacy breaches are ongoing. Days after the announced FTC settlement, Milberg class action attorneys filed a BetterHelp class action lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses BetterHelp of breaking its promises to protect consumers’ private information and instead using it to target new and existing customers with advertisements.
If people do not trust that their medical information will be kept private, they may be less likely to seek medical treatment, which can lead to more serious health problems down the road.
Citing the FTC, Milberg’s complaint explains how, in 2017, BetterHelp delegated most decision-making authority over the company’s Facebook ad services policy to “a junior marketing analyst who was a recent college graduate, had never worked in marketing, and had no experience and little training” in protecting sensitive user data. That year, the complaint claims, the newly hired analyst was given “unilateral authority” to decide what private information to upload to Facebook and how to use that information.
Lead Plaintiff and Proposed Class
The anonymous lead plaintiff in Milberg’s lawsuit used BetterHelp from 2020 to 2022, paying thousands of dollars for teletherapy services. She says BetterHelp shared her private information with third parties like Facebook but never disclosed to her that that it would do so.
If not for these alleged misrepresentations about the handling of her information, the plaintiff says, she would not have paid for BetterHelp’s services. She seeks to establish a nationwide class consisting of the following persons:
- All individuals residing in the United States whose Private Information was disclosed to a third party without authorization or consent through a BetterHelp Website or App (including betterhelp.com, teencouneling.com, faithfulcounseling.com, pridecounseling.com, and regain.us).
Anyone who meets this criteria may be automatically eligible to join the BetterHelp class action lawsuit and receive a share of any settlement or verdict that results. There is no need to take any action at this time. Milberg is working to get the case certified and negotiate a resolution that is fair and reasonable for class members.
Milberg: A National Leader in Class Actions
Our attorneys have filed thousands of class action lawsuits and won billions of dollars for our clients. We pioneered federal class action litigation and are among a small number of firms nationwide with the knowledge, experience, and resources needed to hold big companies accountable for data privacy violations.