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Federal Trade Commission Follows California’s Lead to End Harvesting of Mental Health Data

The FTC has taken steps to restrict mental health data sharing, as Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan’s AB 2089 did in 2022 for California

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA – Today the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a proposed order banning the online mental health service, BetterHelp, from sharing user’s sensitive health data. This follows the lead of Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan’s AB 2089, signed into law by Governor Newsom in 2022, which protected mental health data privacy in California.

“It’s unacceptable to force patients to sacrifice privacy for care and I applaud the FTC for cracking down on BetterHelp’s practices and encourage more stringent regulations in digital mental health” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda). “When I go to seek care in a doctor’s office, I know that every piece of information I share is protected. It should be no different online.”

The FTC’s complaint found that BetterHelp promised users privacy, but  revealed consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses, and survey information to advertisers. The order fines the company $7.8 million and requires comprehensive safeguards for user privacy.

AB 2089 added CMIA/HIPAA protections to data collected by all mental health apps – including BetterHelp. Since the pandemic, the online mental healthcare industry has exploded with as many as 20,000 apps offering services in this category globally. These companies will earn profits from the mental health crisis, and target advertisements to individuals based on probable diagnosis.

“Over the last few years, I’ve seen over and over how therapy apps monetize and take advantage of people’s private mental health information,” said Jeff Guenther, a licensed professional counselor and popular online creator who has called out these predatory practices. “People in desperate need of care are exploited by vague and hard to understand privacy policies and have no legal recourse.”

“I’m proud California has led the way and I encourage the FTC to continue actions in this space to ensure user privacy is protected, regardless of the platform,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan.