Yet again, Facebook is under fire, as a company contractor put pressure on counselors to give information about their sessions with employees. The company, known as Accenture, works with Facebook, and commonly provides therapists for employees tasked with the job of sifting through disturbing content that surfaces on the site.
Employees are required to sift through as many as 800 pieces of disturbing content, and sometimes need to speak with a ‘wellness coach’ to process the content without it causing deep psychological harm. The sessions between the employee and the therapist are understood to be confidential, but the Intercept has released a report showing how Accenture has asked for session details on more than one occasion.
The report showed a letter written by employees and the letter says, “It has come to our attention that an Accenture [manager] pressured a WeCare licensed counselor to divulge the contents of their session with an Accenture employee.”
Currently, the moderators for Accenture work from a special outsourced headquarters for Facebook in Austin, Texas. And while employees in Austin have said their job is quite brutal, Facebook has remained ‘largely indifferent,’ according to The Intercept, aside from providing counsel to those who had been forced to sift through disturbing content.
But, with this news arising, it seems that every silver lining does indeed have a touch of gray.
Some of the Facebook moderators spoke with The Intercept anonymously and explained that they had starting rates around $16 per hour, which for Austin was quite low, leading them to have to take small part-time jobs to make ends meet, and that they constantly dealt with micromanagement making it difficult to do their jobs.
Now, on multiple occasions, personal wellness coaches have been encouraged to give personal and confidential information that was given under the guise of secrecy.
The letter wrote by employees says:
It has come to our attention that an Accenture [manager] pressured a WeCare licensed counselor to divulge the contents of their session with an Accenture employee. The counselor refused, stating confidentiality concerns, but the [manager] pressed on by stating that because this was not a clinical setting, confidentiality did not exist. The counselor again refused. This pressuring of a licensed counselor to divulge confidential information is at best a careless breach of trust into the Wellness program and, at worst, ethics and possible legal violation.
Before we continue, we must unequivocally state that confidentiality does exist for these sessions. Because these counselors are licensed and required to keep confidentiality in their practices, there is an expectation of privacy before engagement. For that confidentiality to not exist, the patient must sign a confidentiality and HIPAA waiver before any sessions having taken place. The receiver of the care must be made fully aware that there is no confidentiality.
Neither Facebook, Accenture, nor WeCare can remove confidentiality post facto from any previous session. If these entities wish for confidentiality to cease to exist in these sessions, they must have every single person utilizing these resources to sign a waiver. However, forcing us to sign away our confidentiality could open all counselors to losing their license due to ethics diligence set out by their governing boards. It could be very difficult for WeCare to run a multi-million dollar business contracting to Facebook if their counselors begin to fear to lose their licenses AND workers stop utilizing this resource due to lack of confidentiality. Facebook, Accenture, and WeCare may try to feign ignorance or implement common liability limiting language in their response. We hope all parties do not succumb to these common and repeated trends, and instead do what is right instead of what you are legally allowed to get away with.
For workers to feel safe when divulging information to these counselors, we are requesting the following:
[Accenture] Manger: The manager who pressed the counselor for confidential medical information must be removed from the project immediately. To do any less would be Facebook, Accenture, and WeCare condoning breaches in medical confidentiality. Allowing the pressuring of a licensed counselor into committing an act [that] could strip the counselor of their credentials must be addressed swiftly.
Affirm Confidentiality: Facebook must affirm that wellness interactions with WeCare counselors and Wellness Champs have been and always will be confidential within the necessary safety reporting standards. To do any less would throw the validity of all wellness interactions into question, make it impossible for WeCare to deliver care, and most importantly would open all licensed counselors to losing their licenses and possible litigation for delivering counseling under pretenses of confidentiality. Anything less than clinical confidentiality will lead to HIPAA violations by all parties.
Restructure Wellness Program: Any changes to the wellness program will be negotiated by and announced by WeCare and their [Facebook account manager] signing off on it. Any changes made to wellness procedures outside this chain of command will be unenforceable and seen as vendors overreaching their authority.
Before Facebook, Accenture, and WeCare launch their independent investigations into these claims against the [manager], we would like to thank everyone involved for their due diligence in this matter.
Since the beginning of writing this letter, we became aware that [a different manager] that the above [manager] reports to is now pressuring these counselors to divulge more confidential information.
This is no longer an isolated incident but a systemic top-down problem plaguing Accenture management. This must be addressed as soon as possible. Unless all entities involved address this issue properly and swiftly, they will open themselves up to a plethora of HIPAA violations that are incredibly financially punitive. Until FB affirms confidentiality has always and will always exist in those sessions we implore everyone to stop utilizing the licensed wellness counselors. If Accenture management is trying to use WeCare to gather information on workers, we as workers cannot in good faith trust that anything we say to a licensed counselor could not then be used to have us terminated.
If you would like to work with us in our efforts to ensure wellness confidentiality, the integrity of the wellness program, and the general wellbeing of [contingent workers], please send an email to [REDACTED].
When speaking with the Intercept, the outsourcing manager at Facebook corporate responded that they had found no violation in a breach of trust between counselors and employees. He did add that the company would continue to address the issue with Accenture, to ensure that policies were followed and handled accordingly.