Do Therapy Apps Really Protect Your Privacy?

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It’s nary astonishment that aft a twelvemonth of unprecedented (remember that word?) isolation, determination was a significant surge successful users seeking retired distant therapy and intelligence wellness apps. In presumption of expanding intelligence wellness consciousness and decreasing intelligence wellness stigma, much radical seeking retired assistance is simply a affirmative thing. However, arsenic with thing you download onto your phone, therapy apps travel with information and privateness concerns—perhaps adjacent much concerns than different apps, considering the delicate quality of what you disclose to virtual therapists.

Text-based therapy and intelligence wellness apps similar Talkspace, MindDoc, and (perhaps the astir well-known) BetterHelp, connection large benefits. These apps are typically much affordable and surely much convenient compared to in-person appointments. But successful 2020, Jezebel reporters investigated the “loosely regulated satellite of online therapy,” with a absorption connected BetterHelp successful particular. Similarly, earlier this year, researchers successful Consumer Reports’ Digital Lab evaluated 7 fashionable therapy apps, including BetterHelp, successful bid to uncover what happens to your idiosyncratic accusation aft you stock it with the app.

Read connected to spot what these reports found, truthful you tin marque an educated determination astir whether text-based therapy apps are close for you.

What accusation does BetterHelp accidental it protects?

BetterHelp claims to instrumentality confidentiality seriously. Here’s what they database retired successful their FAQ astir privateness protection:

  • Everything you archer your therapist is confidential.
  • We don’t cooperate oregon enactment with immoderate security companies truthful thing needs to beryllium shared, reported oregon filed with them.
  • You tin ever click the “Shred” fastener adjacent to each connection that you’ve sent truthful it volition nary longer amusement successful your account.
  • All the messages betwixt you and your therapist are secured and encrypted by banking-grade 256-bit encryption.
  • Our servers are distributed crossed aggregate Tier 4- AWS Data Centers for optimal information and protection.
  • Our browsing encryption strategy (SSL) follows modern champion practices.
  • Our databases are encrypted and scrambled truthful they fundamentally go useless successful the improbable lawsuit that they are stolen oregon inappropriately used.

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Additionally, according to Eric Silver successful eCounseling.com, the BetterHelp browsing encryption strategy (SSL) is provided by Comodo, “a satellite person successful information security.”

So what does each this mean for you? Silver argues that the measures described supra guarantee that your accusation is supremely safe. He adjacent goes connected to accidental that files saved to an in-office therapist’s machine are “just arsenic [if not more] susceptible to onslaught arsenic BetterHelp.” However, I’d reason that galore users’ concerns are little astir hackers accessing your encrypted information, and much astir however BetterHelp itself deliberately collects and shares your accusation with 3rd parties.

What does the privateness argumentation mean?

Privacy policies aren’t precisely well-known for their clarity, and BetterHelp’s astir precocious updated policy is nary exception. Jeff Guenther, a nonrecreational therapist who goes by @therapyden connected TikTok, precocious went viral for exploring what helium finds problematic astir BetterHelp’s practices. In respective videos discussing the app, Guenther digs into the company’s assertion that “the information [BetterHelp] collects is not utilized for selling oregon immoderate different purposes but arsenic specified successful this Privacy Policy.” Guenther believes this could beryllium rephrased arsenic BetterHelp saying “the mode we cod information is not being utilized for selling but for erstwhile we usage it for marketing.”

In summation to modular demographic info (like your age, gender, and location), immoderate of the astir notable information points that BetterHelp collects autumn nether “visitor activity.” This includes the frequence that users log into the app, however agelong they walk online, and however galore messages they speech with their therapist. The Jezebel report points retired that though we’re conditioned to stock each thought we’ve ever had connected societal media, it inactive feels “pretty spooky” that BetterHelp would stock however often you speech to your therapist with third-parties similar Snapchat and Pinterest—“even if it’s covered successful the good print.”

And adjacent if this sounds similar “normal tech institution shenanigans,” Guenther adds, “it is not mean successful the intelligence wellness industry.” (It should beryllium noted that Guenther closes his videos by asserting that nary 1 should consciousness “guilty” for utilizing BetterHelp, and that determination are “amazing” therapists connected that app; helium takes contented with the company’s privateness policies, not radical who usage these kinds of apps.)

Where does your accusation go?

When Jezebel reporters signed up for BetterHelp successful bid to show what kinds of accusation the institution collected and shared, they discovered that—under the “ostensible extremity of amended tracking idiosyncratic behavior”—users’ delicate accusation does so get shared with advertisers. BetterHelp responded to Jezebel saying their methods were modular and that they “typically acold transcend each applicable regulatory, ethical and ineligible requirements.” And they’re not wrong: Jezebel’s reporting finds that BetterHelp is good wrong their ineligible rights to stock your therapy habits with Facebook. This means that until the laws change, the contented is the aforesaid 1 we look each clip we “read” the “terms of services” for immoderate app: We manus implicit intimate accusation to tech companies that support themselves successful the good print.

What astir HIPAA?

HIPAA is the cardinal national wellness information instrumentality that protects your information—sometimes. Unfortunately, “technical practices person moved past what laws similar HIPAA were designed to address, and until regulations evolve, these companies beryllium it to consumers to bash better,” says Bill Fitzgerald, a privateness researcher successful CR’s Digital Lab who led the intelligence wellness app research.

BetterHelp specifically says that each their therapists are HIPAA compliant. This is notable erstwhile you see that HIPAA doesn’t use astatine each to much loosely defined “mental health” apps, arsenic Consumer Reports explains:

The instrumentality doesn’t support information conscionable due to the fact that it’s related to your health. It applies lone to accusation collected and held by “covered entities,” specified arsenic security companies, healthcare providers, and the “business associates” that supply them with services specified arsenic billing. Those companies motion concern subordinate agreements that restrict them from doing thing with the information different than assistance the providers tally their businesses, unless they get explicit support from a patient.

However, Consumer Reports’ probe recovered that BetterHelp’s HIPAA protections get blurry, peculiarly erstwhile the app sends information to societal media platforms similar Facebook. BetterHelp president Alon Matas told Consumer Reports that Facebook “can usage information from different apps connected an aggregated level, not connected an idiosyncratic basis.” The large takeaway present is that companies similar Facebook tin easy instrumentality the information that you usage a intelligence wellness app and past harvester that cognition with different information points collected by the app. Taken together, it’s harmless to presume the ads that get shown to you are informed by your online therapy habits. So, portion Facebook’s policies accidental that delicate information similar your aesculapian symptoms isn’t utilized for targeted ads, intelligence wellness apps are inactive providing a scope of information points that could beryllium considered just game.

Making an educated decision

To beryllium fair, the privateness issues explored supra are by nary means exclusive to BetterHelp oregon immoderate different intelligence wellness app. Consumer Reports points retired the similarities betwixt intelligence wellness services and fundamentally each app we download (in particular, their study highlights the information that each these apps delegate unsocial IDs to idiosyncratic smartphones, which tin beryllium tracked and combined with different information for targeted advertising). The question that remains is whether it’s good for intelligence wellness services to enactment the aforesaid arsenic each the different apps that we’ve grown accustomed to harvesting our data.

Mental wellness is incredibly personal, and successful an perfect world, we wouldn’t person to interest astir however your accusation gets shared and misused by services similar BetterHelp. Alas, until laws and regulations drawback up, your determination to usage text-based therapy apps comes down to your thought of informed consent. If you’re already comfy posting astir your intelligence wellness connected Facebook directly, past utilizing intelligence wellness apps mightiness beryllium worthy the privateness risks for you. Remote therapy options are captious tools for galore people, and for now, it doesn’t look similar their privateness concerns mean you person to disregard them entirely.

Finding what works for you

We’ve antecedently covered what to cognize astir if teletherapy could enactment for you, arsenic good arsenic the pros and cons of text-based therapy (especially for anyone who wants to springiness it a changeable but isn’t acceptable to perpetrate to in-person sessions). And finally, here’s our usher to uncovering the close therapist for you.