Warning: *privacy not included with this product
Pride Counseling, owned by BetterHelp (see our review of BetterHelp), provides therapy services targeted at members of the LGBTQ+ community. Costs for the Pride Counseling service run around $60 - $90 per week depending on your location (some locations might be higher) and Wirecutter noted in 2021 they "found some of the company’s practices to be predatory." Users will then be matched with a therapist Pride Counseling says are licensed and have some experience with the LGBTQ+ community, although there is no way to guarantee your therapist will be LGBTQ themselves. Conversations with therapists can happen in a number of ways -- text messages, live chats, phone conversations, or video calls.
So, how does Pride Counseling look from a privacy and security perspective? Unfortunately, not great. Which is not at all what you want to see from an online therapy service targeted at the vulnerable LGBTQ+ community. Indeed, Pride Counseling parent company BetterHelp was fined $7.8 million by the Federal Trade Commission for sharing their customers sensitive personal health data after promising not to.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
First reviewed April 20, 2022. Review updated, April 25, 2023
Pride Counseling, owned by parent company BetterHelp, has gotten worse since we reviewed them in 2022, which is concerning because their privacy practices seemed pretty bad to us last year. The biggest flag we about Pride Counseling since our last review is that their parent company BetterHelp had a pretty serious enforcement action launched against them by the US regulator agency the Federal Trade Commission announced in March, 2023. The FTC stated, "At several points in the signup process, BetterHelp promised consumers that it would not use or disclose their personal health data except for limited purposes, such as to provide counseling services. Despite these promises, BetterHelp used and revealed consumers’ email addresses, IP addresses, and health questionnaire information to Facebook, Snapchat, Criteo, and Pinterest for advertising purposes, according to the FTC’s complaint." The results of this enforcement action are a $7.8 million settlement paid to consumers and a ban on Betterhelp "sharing consumers’ health data, including sensitive information about mental health challenges, for advertising."
This is all very bad. But the crackdown by the US regulator body is a very good trend we like to see. We hope this will lead other mental health app companies with questionable data sharing practice to feel pressure and change for the better.
Other than this FTC enforcement action, Pride Counseling earns all three of our privacy dings this year -- for sharing data for advertising purposes, for not being clear if all users have the same rights to delete their data regardless of the privacy laws the live under, and for having a bad track record of protecting and respecting their users' sensitive personal information. Last year we felt Pride Counseling was bad. This year we have further proof they are a mental health app that most certainly earns our *Privacy Not Included warning label.
Read our 2022 review:
Owned by BettherHelp, Pride Counseling brings all the privacy concerns we had with that app to this LGBTQI+ focused therapy app. They're privacy policies are identical, so everything we were worried about with BetterHelp applies here with Pride Counseling, except Pride Counseling is targeted at a vulnerable community, which makes our privacy concerns carry even more weight.
But wait, there's more! Pride Counseling 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 Better Help, 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/Pride Counseling 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. Pride Counseling 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 Pride Counseling 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.
Pride Counseling's parent company BetterHelp operates a number of 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. Which is incredibly worrisome for a service targeted a the vulnerable LGBTQ+ community. 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 "Shared" button next to each message you've sent if you want it to no longer show in your account.
- Do not sign up with third-party accounts. Better just log in with email and strong password.
- Choose a strong password! You may use a password control tool like 1Password, KeePass etc
- Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images, location unless neccessary)
- Keep your app regularly updated
- Limit ad tracking via your device (e.g. on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
- Request your data be deleted once you stop using the app. Simply deleting an app from your device usually does not erase your personal data.
- When starting a sign-up, do not agree to tracking of your data if possible.
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 March 2023, BetterHelp, the parent company of Pride Counseling, got in trouble with FTC for sharing health data it had promised to keep private — including information about mental health challenges — with companies including Facebook and Snapchat. BetterHelp said the settlement (which included a payment of $7.8M) was not an admission of wrongdoing and that the behavior for which it was sanctioned is standard for the industry.
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."
The company representative shared with us that "in addition to daily automated vulnerability scans and an invite only bug bounty program managed by Bugcrowd, the Member Success team has been instructed to refer Security Researchers to email us directly at [email protected]. If their disclosure has merit, we’ll have them added to the Bugcrowd team so it can be processed through channels and they can be rewarded for that and any subsequent bugs they may find."
"BetterHelp uses Machine Learning to process users’ responses to the intake questionnaire and limited additional data, such as therapist schedules and member time zone, to match a user with a therapist. We do not use generative AI or large langauge models like Chat-GPT."
Is this AI untrustworthy?
What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?
Is the company transparent about how the AI works?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
Mozilla Statement on FTC, BetterHelp SettlementPrivacy Not Included
FTC reaches deal with online therapy company over data misuse claimsPolitico
FTC bans BetterHelp from sharing consumer data with advertisers, issues $7.8M fineHealthcare Drive
BetterHelp shared customer data while promising it was private, says FTCThe Verge
BetterHelp Online Therapy Review 2023Forbes
Mental health app privacy language opens up holes for user dataThe Verge
The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online TherapyJezebel
Pride Counseling review 2022: Everything you need to knowMedical News Today
Pride Counseling Online Therapy ReviewConsumersAdvocate.org
The Online Therapy Services We’d UseWirecutter
Pride Counseling: Reviews, Cost, and ServicesEveryday Health
Pride Counseling Review: Should you try this online LGBTQ+ counseling?Innerbody Research
Pride Counseling ReviewE-Counseling.com
What Is Video Therapy? Plus 15 Best Services for 2022Healthline
Pride Counseling Online Therapy ReviewConsumersAdvocate.org
The 7 Best Online Couples and Relationship Therapy Services for 2022Psych Central
Adverts for LGBT mental health service ‘crass and exploitative’PinkNews
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