At the beginning of the pandemic, demand for speak therapy apps skyrocketed. Prominent gamers, like BetterHelp and Talkspace, noticed their downloads practically double all through the primary few months of lockdown in 2020. Now, lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are demanding particulars on how these corporations shield the privateness of their customers.
In letters to BetterHelp and Talkspace executives on Thursday, Warren — together with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — known as on the psychological well being corporations to elucidate how their apps gather and use data obtained from their sufferers. Specifically, lawmakers requested data on the apps’ relationships with on-line advertisers, data brokers, and social media platforms like Facebook in addition to how these relationships are disclosed to customers.
Reviewing the businesses’ privateness insurance policies, the senators wrote that “unfortunately, it appears possible that the policies used by your company and similar mental health platforms allow third-party Big Tech firms and data brokers, who have shown remarkably little interest in protecting vulnerable consumers and users, to access and use highly confidential personal and medical information.”
The letter follows a report published in May by the Mozilla Foundation, which warned customers that on-line speak therapy apps might be profiting off of their psychological well being data. While each BetterHelp and Talkspace promise to not promote a consumer’s medical data with out their consent, the researchers decided that private data — like a affected person’s title, telephone quantity, and electronic mail — might nonetheless be bought or accessed by third events for promoting and advertising functions.
While private data isn’t as delicate as medical data, it could possibly nonetheless reveal intimate insights right into a consumer’s life. For instance, Jezebel reported in 2020 that BetterHelp shared the metadata of messages between a affected person and therapist with Facebook. The data doesn’t embrace the contents of those messages however might alert on-line entrepreneurs to how regularly and the place a consumer might be utilizing the app.
“Even though you claim this data is anonymized, it can still provide third parties with important and identifying information,” the senators wrote, citing a 2019 MIT Technology Review study on how a number of items of anonymized data might be used to assemble particular person consumer identities.
Warren’s letter comes amid a broader push to regulate data sales within the US. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is about to mark up sweeping privateness laws on Thursday. It’s the closest lawmakers have come to a deal over the previous couple of years. Last week, Warren introduced her own measure that will ban the sale of location and delicate well being data because the Supreme Court is poised to roll again Roe v. Wade.
While the pandemic performed a serious function in popularizing therapy apps, the businesses additionally paid well-liked influencers like Shane Dawson and Philip DeFranco to promote their apps on social media years prior. That promoting marketing campaign erupted in controversy in 2018 after followers accused the YouTubers of profiting off of their viewers’s psychological well being points with apps accused of hiring unqualified therapists, as reported by The Atlantic.