Warning: *privacy not included with this product
"You deserve to be happy." Yes, you do deserve to be happy! BetterHelp thinks they can help you with that if you use their online service to connect with a therapist. Download the app, complete the intake questionnaire, pay up, and boom, BetterHelp says they will match you with a therapist right for you. Then they say you get unlimited messaging with your therapist through chat, phone, or video. Unlimited! All this sounds good, just know that BetterHelp has a bit of a spotty record with things like actually providing the services they promised. And they got in some hot water when they used social media and YouTube influencers to promote their product in ways people found icky. Top that off with a questionable brand partnership they formed following the tragedy at the Travis Scott concert in 2021 where people died and BetterHelp may or may not leave you feeling happy. Oh, and their privacy and security practices seem rather questionable too.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
But wait, there's more! BetterHelp does collect a whole lot of personal information, from the responses to their intake questionnaire (like are you feeling depressed or anxious or are you struggling to maintain relationships), to things like name, age, email address, and phone number. They also say they can use data they collect on you for personalization, product offerings relevant to your individual interests, and targeted ads. And they say they can share some data with a number of third parties including advertisers (boo!), and with any subsidiaries or parent companies within their corporate group (which includes Pride Counseling, Teen Counseling, and Faith Counseling). Remember, every time your data is shared, the potential for data leaks or breaches grows.
And according to this 2020 article by Jezebel, BetterHelp shares metadata from every message, though not its contents, with Facebook. This means that Facebook could know what time of day a user was going to therapy, their approximate location, and how long they were chatting on the app. Yup, red flag.
Is there more that worries us? Why, yes, there is. BetterHelp says they collect, use, and store communications between users and counselors on their platform. They do say they encrypt messages between you and your therapist on the platform, which is good. We were unable to confirm if BetterHelp has a system in place to manage security vulnerabilities on their app, which raises a flag for us about their overall security practices. We emailed their listed privacy contact to ask some questions about BetterHelp's privacy practices and received no response to our questions, so we're not sure if users can expect a timely response from that listed contact.
BetterHelp is a popular mental health platform right now in 2022. They are pouring millions of dollars into advertising to grow their user base. They have a number of concerning privacy and security practices that we and others have reported like sending data to Facebook and sharing data widely with third parties. What's the worst that could happen? Unfortunately, we're afraid a lot could go wrong based on what we learned in our research. That's why we've currently labeled this product *Privacy Not Included.
Tips to protect yourself
- Do NOT connect the app to your Facebook, Google, or other social media accounts or third-party tools, and do not share medical data when connected to those account.
- Click the "Shred" button next to each message you've sent if you want it to no longer show in your account.
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Name or nickname, age, e-mail address, phone number, and emergency contact information, gender, sexual orientation
Symptoms and mental state observations
Information on your partner (if you use couples therapy)
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
In 2021, the Economist shared the report of one user that "When I first joined BetterHelp, I started to see targeted ads with words that I had used on the app to describe my personal experiences.”
In October 2018, BetterHelp gained attention from media personalities after concerns were raised about alleged use of unfair pricing, bad experiences with the app, paid reviews from actors, and terms of service that allegedly did not correspond with ads promoted by professional YouTubers.
Child Privacy Information
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
All the messages between you and your therapist are encrypted by 256-bit encryption.
Do Therapy Apps Really Protect Your Privacy?Life Hacker
‘We don’t think this is a healthy therapeutic relationship’: Therapist exposes BetterHelp’s problems in viral TikTokDaily Dot
Peace of Mind...Evaluating the Privacy Practices of Mental Health AppsConsumer Reports
The Digital Standard Case Study: Mental Health AppsThe Digital Standard
Mental health app privacy language opens up holes for user dataThe Verge
Mental Health Apps Aren't All As Private As You May ThinkConsumer Reports
How the BetterHelp scandal changed our perspective on influencer responsibilityMaastricht University
The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online TherapyJezebel
YouTube Stars Are Being Accused of Profiting Off Fans’ DepressionThe Atlantic
How Effective Has BetterHelp’s Advertising Been?Medium
Here's What's Happening With Travis Scott's Free Month Of BetterHelp Therapy — And Why It's ControversialBuzzFeed
Dramatic growth in mental-health apps has created a risky industryThe Economist
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