How to protect your privacy when using mental health care apps

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Online therapy has become a booming industry in recent years, but with that growth comes questions about how well these types of companies are protecting the privacy of their patients.

Most recently, in June, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden asked two leading online therapy companies, BetterHelp and Talkspace, to provide information about how they handle user data and their privacy practices.

The Democratic senators said they were concerned that the companies could be leaving their patients “vulnerable to exploitation from large technology platforms and other online actors.”

BetterHelp markets itself as the world’s largest online therapy service with nearly 2 million users, according to its website. The company operates through thousands of therapists who can communicate with patients via phone, text or video chat.

But a 2020 investigation from Jezebel found that BetterHelp information was being shared with Facebook, including metadata of messages between patients and therapists. Facebook could also see the duration, approximate location and amount of time people spent on BetterHelp, according to Jezebel. (BetterHelp is an NPR funder.)

The nonprofit Mozilla Foundation has also raised concerns about the privacy policies of both BetterHelp and Talkspace.

Talkspace told NPR that it has one of the most comprehensive privacy policies in the industry and that it’s gathering information to comply with the senators’ request.

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