It’s not that often that I feel a business should be barred from the market permanently - this one comes close … breathtaking unethical behaviour …
8 August 2019
The ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against online health booking platform HealthEngine Pty Ltd (HealthEngine) for misleading and deceptive conduct relating to the sharing of consumer information with insurance brokers and the publishing of patient reviews and ratings.
The ACCC claims that between 31 March 2015 to 1 March 2018, HealthEngine manipulated the patient reviews it published, and misrepresented to consumers why HealthEngine did not publish a rating for some health practices.
“We allege that HealthEngine refused to publish negative reviews and altered feedback to remove negative aspects, or to embellish it, before publishing the reviews,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“We will argue that HealthEngine disregarded around 17,000 reviews, and altered around 3,000 in the relevant time period.”
“The ACCC considers that the alleged conduct by HealthEngine is particularly egregious because patients would have visited doctors at their time of need based on manipulated reviews that did not accurately reflect the experience of other patients,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC also alleges that from 30 April 2014 to 30 June 2018, HealthEngine gave information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses, and date of birth of over 135,000 patients to private health insurance brokers for a fee without adequately disclosing to consumers it would do so.
“We also allege that patients were misled into thinking their information would stay with HealthEngine but, instead, their information was sold off to insurance brokers,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC’s recent Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report includes recommendations to strengthen consent and notification requirements under the Privacy Act.
“Issues of transparency and adequate disclosure when digital platforms collect and use consumer data is one of the top priorities at the ACCC,” Mr Sims said.
“Businesses who are not upfront with how they will use consumer data may risk breaching the Australian Consumer Law and face action from the ACCC.”
“One of our recommendations from the Digital Platforms Inquiry is that obtaining consent for different purposes of data collection, use or disclosure must not be bundled,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC is seeking penalties, declarations, corrective notices and an order for HealthEngine to review its compliance program.
The ACCC is also applying for an order from the Court that would require HealthEngine to contact affected consumers and provide details of how they can regain control of their personal information.
HealthEngine describes itself as Australia’s largest online health marketplace, which is used by over a million consumers every month.
HealthEngine provides a booking system for patients and an online health care directory that lists over 70,000 health practices and practitioners in Australia. The directory allows patients to search for and book appointments with health practitioners. Up until June 2018, consumers could also access reviews from patients about the quality and services of health practitioners.
Two of HealthEngine’s major investors are subsidiaries of Telstra and Seven West Media.
A sample of reviews allegedly manipulated by Health Engine can be found in the ACCC’s concise statement below.
The attached document below contains the ACCC’s initiating court documents in relation to this matter. We will not be uploading further documents in the event these initial documents are subsequently amended.
Release number: 142/19