The Spooky, Loosely Regulated World of Online Therapy

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From Jezebel: “Of all the information the average internet user shares with the technology companies that dominate their lives, health data—and especially mental health data–is some of the most valuable, and controversial: Though social media conditions a person to share every aspect of their being, at every moment, a company automatically telling Snapchat and Pinterest you’re signing up for therapy still feels pretty spooky, even if it’s covered in the fine print. It also brings up questions about how a person’s intimate, supposedly private sessions might be exploited by advertisers, an industry that isn’t exactly known for operating in good faith. And while there’s no reason to believe the information Better Help is collecting will be weaponized, there is still some stigma in struggling with mental health. Insurance companies and employers are barred by law from discriminating against people based on their mental health histories; that doesn’t mean they always follow the rules. It all depends on how much you trust the company with the information you’re feeding it: In this case, an app developed by an Israeli serial entrepreneur who is quick to note he is definitely not a medical professional, nor is he pretending to be.

On one hand, this is how the internet works now. When we brought our concerns to Better Help the company essentially brushed them off, telling us their methods were standard and that they ‘typically far exceed all applicable regulatory, ethical and legal requirements.’ And it’s true: There are no laws against a therapy app telling Facebook every time a person talks to their therapist, or sharing patients’ pseudo-anonymous feelings about suicide with an analytics company that helps clients measure how ‘addicted’ users are to an app. But it is a particularly stark illustration of how limited medical privacy regulations are in the expanding world of online health. Unless the people who trust Better Help deftly analyze the fine print, they might not have much of an idea of how far their intimate information is traveling, in a way that’s designed to make companies bigger and richer while patients become more easily gamed.”

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