The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online Therapy

By Molly Osberg and Dhruv Mehrotra: For More Info, Go Here…

Better Help’s users skew young and female, and it’s been downloaded nearly a half a million times in the last year, according to a mobile analytics and intelligence firm called App Figures. Essentially, the company operates as a conduit between people looking for therapy and counselors working on a contract basis. It also operates a somewhat baffling array of websites, sorted by demographic interest, which funnel back into its telemedicine service: Pride Counseling for LGBTQ users, Faithful Counseling for those seeking therapy from a “Biblical perspective,” and Teen Counseling for, well, the teens. All of these divisions are advertised as “100% private,” operating in accordance with HIPAA, the suite of regulations guarding medical data. But as with many of the endlessly iterating companies that generate the vast ecosystem of health technology, how “privacy” applies when it comes to making consumers out of patients is a more fluid issue.

In order to understand how Better Help handles its users’ data, we signed up for the service and monitored what kinds of information it was collecting and sending elsewhere. According to the company, the platform encrypts information shared with therapists, and the licensed counselors that contract with the service are prevented by the regulations of their profession from sharing information about patients, unless there is a risk of physical harm. But as we found when we monitored the app, the realities of advertising on the internet, and the web of third-party services apps like Better Help tend to use, means some sensitive information does end up being shared—all with the ostensible goal of better tracking user behavior, and perhaps giving social media companies an easy way to see who’s feeling depressed.

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