The FTC Announces First Health Breach Notification Rule Enforcement Action

February 13, 2023Legal Alerts

On February 1, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced enforcement action for the first time under its Health Breach Notification Rule[1]. The complaint against telehealth and prescription drug discount provider GoodRx Holdings Inc. (“GoodRx”), alleges its failure to notify consumers and others of its unauthorized disclosures of consumers’ personal health information to Facebook, Google and other companies.

In a first-of-its-kind proposed order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, GoodRx will be prohibited from sharing user health data with applicable third parties for advertising purposes, and has agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty for violating the rule. The proposed order must be approved by the federal court to go into effect. The Health Breach Notification Rule requires vendors of personal health records and related entities, which are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to notify consumers and the FTC of unauthorized disclosures. In a September 2021 policy statement, the FTC warned health apps and connected devices that they must comply with the rule.

According to the FTC’s complaint, for years GoodRx violated the FTC Act by sharing sensitive personal health information with advertising companies and platforms—contrary to its privacy promises—and failed to report these unauthorized disclosures as required by the Health Breach Notification Rule.  Specifically, the FTC claims GoodRx shared personal health information with Facebook, Google, Criteo and others. According to the FTC, since at least 2017, GoodRx deceptively promised its users that it would never share personal health information with advertisers or other third parties. GoodRx repeatedly violated this promise by sharing sensitive personal health information—such as including its users’ prescription medications and personal health conditions. 

The FTC also alleges GoodRx monetized its users’ personal health information, and used data it shared with Facebook to target GoodRx’s own users with personalized health and medication-specific advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. 

The FTC further alleges that GoodRx:

  • Failed to Limit Third-Party Use of Personal Health Information: GoodRx allowed third parties it shared data with to use that information for their own internal purposes, including for research and development or to improve advertising.
  • Misrepresented its HIPAA Compliance: GoodRx displayed a seal at the bottom of its telehealth services homepage falsely suggesting to consumers that it complied with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a law that sets forth privacy and information security protections for health data.
  • Failed to Implement Policies to Protect Personal Health Information: GoodRx failed to maintain sufficient policies or procedures to protect its users’ personal health information. Until a consumer watchdog publicly revealed GoodRx’s actions in February 2020, GoodRx had no sufficient formal, written, or standard privacy or data sharing policies or compliance programs in place.

In addition to the $1.5 million penalty for violating the rule, the proposed federal court order also prohibits GoodRx from engaging in the deceptive practices outlined in the complaint and requires the company to comply with the Health Breach Notification Rule. To remedy the FTC’s numerous allegations, other provisions of the proposed order against GoodRx also:

  • Prohibit the sharing of health data for advertising: GoodRx will be permanently prohibited from disclosing user health information with applicable third parties for advertising purposes.
  • Require user consent for any other sharing: GoodRx must obtain users’ affirmative express consent before disclosing user health information with applicable third parties for other purposes. The order requires the company to clearly and conspicuously detail the categories of health information that it will disclose to third parties.  It also prohibits the company from using manipulative designs, known as dark patterns, to obtain users’ consent to share the information.
  • Require the company to seek deletion of data: GoodRx must direct third parties to delete the consumer health data that was shared with them and inform consumers about the breaches and the FTC’s enforcement action against the company.
  • Limit Retention of Data: GoodRx will be required to limit how long it can retain personal and health information according to a data retention schedule. It also must publicly post a retention schedule and detail the information it collects and why such data collection is necessary.
  • Implement a Mandated Privacy Program: GoodRx must put in place a comprehensive privacy program that includes strong safeguards to protect consumer data.

If you have any questions regarding the action filed by the FTC, your own compliance with HIPAA rules or the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule, please contact your Dinsmore health care attorney.

[1] 16 CFR Part 318