FTC fine BetterHelp $8m: a cautionary tale for Pharma

In a pivotal action that continues to reverberate across the healthcare industry, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently levied a staggering fine of nearly $8 million against BetterHelp, a renowned online therapy provider.  This was because the FTC judged BetterHelp to have flagrantly violated user privacy by sharing sensitive health data with third parties, including Facebook, without explicit consent from its users.

Implications for the Pharma Industry

The FTC’s action should be a stern warning to pharma, an industry that has long thrived on the collection and analysis of extensive health data.  This case underlines the necessity for companies to respect the sanctity of patient data and to uphold user trust: two elements that are vital for fostering a healthy relationship between pharma and its customers and maintaining the reputation of the industry.

Data Sharing: A Simple Oversight with Serious Consequences

The significant detail in the BetterHelp case was the way in which the data was shared. Rather than using a sinister or complex mechanism, the data was made available simply because a Facebook pixel was installed on the BetterHelp website.  This seemingly innocuous action allowed Facebook to associate the user with the pages visited on BetterHelp’s site which in turn, could reveal sensitive health insights.

Global Concerns on Health Data Privacy

Similarly, in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) is also coming under intense scrutiny from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is currently reviewing the NHS’s data sharing practices.  This highlights the fact that concerns about health data privacy are not isolated to any one country or sector and further underscores the universal importance of diligently upholding data privacy in today’s digital world.

The Balancing Act: Data Insights vs. Patient Confidentiality

For pharmaceutical companies, these cases serve as stark reminders of the dire consequences of disregarding patient data protection.  Firms now find themselves under intense scrutiny, as the balance between leveraging data-driven insights and safeguarding patient confidentiality becomes more precarious.  This era of personal data as a precious resource calls for companies to prioritise strict patient data and privacy regulations.  Those who fail to do so risk substantial fines, regulatory repercussions, and significant reputational damage.

Get in Touch

If you’re a pharmaceutical director, manager, or part of a digital governance team, and want to know if your web estate is potentially sharing site visitor health data with Facebook or others, please get in touch and we will gladly conduct a free, no-obligation healthcheck on one of your websites.