Read the article here: https://gettherapybirmingham.com/corporate-tech-monopolies-are-going-tto-ruin-therapy/
Last weekend BetterHelp, the online subscription therapy company, settled with the FTC for almost 8 million in fines for selling therapy patients confidential information to Facebook and Snapchat. This isn’t justice, so hold your applause.
The company, whose name really is the word better and help smashed together with no space between them has had issues before. A quick google search reveals customer reviews claiming the company is as good at therapy as it is at punctuation. The company previously faced controversy for allegedly paying youtube influencers to vlog about invented mental health conditions that they claimed the company's treatment had “cured”. Since these influencers have and audience of children and young adults who look up to them, these potential lies are especially worrisome. Some of these influencers purportedly received thousands of dollars in compensation for the alleged lies.
So why is the sale of data such a big deal? Put simply it's a big deal because if I did it to one patient I would lose my license and potentially get sued. The FTC has just set a precedent that big companies can now do this to millions of people with impunity. Fines, like the 7.8 million that BetterHelp is returning to consumers is a cost of doing business for these companies. They take the risk because they make more money breaking the law than they pay in fines.
Because this would have put anyone else in court.
When you go to therapy there is more than just an expectation that what you talk about will be kept private. HIPPA laws mean that if your therapist knowingly discloses information about you they are breaking the law. You can sue them, their board can take their license, insurance panels can drop them and you can sue them civilly. This is if one therapist knowingly shares the data of a single patient.
BetterHelp removed all of the links I posted to these news articles from their social media in an effort to not have to be associated with their own behavior. That is strange since BetterHelp also claims that they did nothing wrong in their statement about the settlement.
You read that right. Either BetterHelp misspelled “I’m sorry” or they really think they did nothing wrong. Let's hope they are as bad at spelling as punctuation. People with antisocial personality disorder have no regard for right and wrong despite getting caught and experiencing consequences. People with this disorder need therapy but here a possible inference is that they appear to be providing it.
BetterHelp also goes on to say in their statement that all the information sold to Facebook was encrypted and non identifiable despite the fact that they released the emails of users. My email address, JoelBlackstock@GetTherapyBirmingham.com, is pretty effective at letting someone identify who I am.
Betterhelp released emails of users. If they are using betterhelp, they are seeking mental health treatment. They also released information regarding prior mental health treatment. According to the complaint:
Some of the intake questions that BetterHelp sold to facebook identified whether patients had been in therapy before. Below is from the official complaint:
“For example, though an affirmative response to the question “Have you been in counseling or therapy before?” was coded as “AddToWishlist,” the analyst revealed to Facebook that this event meant that the “user completes questionnaire marking they have been in therapy before, thereby disclosing millions of Visitors’ and Users’ prior therapy to Facebook.”
BetterHelp claims this is not protected information because it didn't come from actual sessions, just the intake to an app that gets you therapy. This is absurd. I am not allowed to tell you who comes into my waiting room or who emails me about therapy because it is readily apparent that those people are trying to receive healthcare.
While the legal burden of responsibility lies with the seller, the buyer bears some ethical responsibility in my mind. Facebook and Snapchat knew what the data was they were buying. If you knowingly buy stolen goods you are culpable. If you get caught stealing you get a punishment in addition to having to give back what you stole. Here the FTC has merely made BetterHelp return the ill gotten gains but there are no consequences. There is no punishment that any single other therapist would face.
THEN BetterHelp released a statement saying they didn't do anything wrong. Is that justice?
These corporate monopolies are ruining therapy and it is not talked about enough. The parent company of BetterHelp is another giant monopoly, Teladoc. Even if this gets publicized, even if CNN and Fox News deign to care about potentially criminal invasions of privacy, the parent company can just dissolved the brand and use the same practices under the larger corporate umbrella. This is increasingly worrisome as insurance companies are making moves to make Teladoc the mandatory go between software for patients to receive teletherapy.
As a patient, as a provider, as a legislator, refuse to participate in these things. They are a bad precedent taking the industry into a bad place.
Anyone who wants to say that this is wrong and condemn these practices has to make the intellectual leap that the only way to make it stop is to force these companies to face legal consequences. Not fines. Fines are baked into the cost of doing business. If you say you care about this then you have to accept that the only way to stop these companies is to break them up and send people to prison.
Companies like this can make more money breaking the law than they have to pay back. Executives who signed off on this deserve jail time and these companies need to be taken apart. Let's see how frequently this happens when people start looking at prison time.
Many podcasters pretend to be allies for mental health yet shill for these companies. If you listen to an influencer who shills for BetterHelp it is your responsibility to hold them accountable.
I’ve been careful to limit my own liability in this article and without going through any more specifics, if you are a patient or a provider I am happy to guide you through how to succeed in this industry. The vast majority of people who contact Taproot Therapy Collective receive a high quality personalized referral to another local provider.
We genuinely want you to get therapy at the best place for you. We recognize that we are not the right provider for every need. We treat the therapists in our collective well even though we could make more money if we didn’t. We call every person who contacts us back even when we are full. We don’t do that because it makes us money. We do it because providers of mental health services have a responsibility to ethical behavior even when our legislators have decided there won’t be legal consequences if we don’t.
Choosing ethical behavior is not something that should be up to the clinician. Our legislators should enforce existing laws even if it means sending their campaign donors to jail. We are in a mental health crisis and practices like these give people valid reasons to be afraid of getting mental health care.
The resources, videos and podcasts on our site and social media are no substitute for mental health treatment. Please find a qualified mental health provider and contact emergency services in your area in the event of an emergency to a provider in your area. Our number and email are only for scheduling at Taproot Therapy Collective are not monitored consistently and not a reliable resource for emergency services.
To leave or reply to comments, please download free Podbean or
To leave or reply to comments, please download free Podbean App.