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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 18964

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Electronic Source

Silverman E
FTC Urged To Probe Online Health Marketing
Pharmalot 2010 Nov 23

Full text:

The US Federal Trade Commission is being asked by four consumer and privacy watchdog groups to investigate what they describe as allegedly “unfair and deceptive advertising practices” that consumers confront when they attempt to gather health info online. The move comes as the FDA grapples with formulating rules for how the pharmaceutical industry can adopt social media.
“Health consumers are being told that by using digital media services they have become empowered ‘e-patients,’ but they are not being informed about the privacy and potential health risks connected with the use of digital marketing of pharmaceuticals and health products,” according to the 144-page complaint filed today with the FTC by the Center for Digital Democracy, US PIRG, Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum.
“While digital and social media play an important role in providing consumers with access to in-depth information and support concerning health products and issues, US health consumers should not be subjected to hidden digital marketing techniques designed to amass detailed profiles of their behavior and then target them with ads for specific drugs and treatments.”
Among the companies named in the complaint are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, WebMD, Quality Health, Everyday Health, and Health Central.
“The online marketing health industry has presented to the FDA and the public a fairytale version of digital marketing, where all consumers become empowered ‘e-patients (who are) able to form powerful helping communities,” the groups argue in a statement. “But while the online medium provides medical information to those seeking access to resources and support, it has been structured to engage in aggressive tactics that threaten privacy, raise questions about the fair presentation of independent information, and advance the sales of prescription drugs and over-the-counter products.”
In their filing, the groups list several interactive techniques they claim threaten consumer privacy: such as the medical “condition targeting,” which covers such illnesses as depression, COPD, diabetes, and asthma, based on a person’s use of online health info services and digital behaviors;
Eavesdropping on online discussions of health consumers via social media data mining, enabling drugmakers to fine tune marketing campaigns for brands; collecting data on consumer actions related to health concerns by way of online profiling and behavioral tracking in order to target them for medical advertising, and using viral and word-of-mouth online to drive interest in prescriptions, over-the counter drugs, and health remedies.
Other practices mentioned include using unbranded websites and video channels to promote connections to brands, which are sponsored by drugmakers; a failure to clearly separate between what should be editorial content and promotional material by sponsors and advertisers, and influencing subconscious perceptions by using what they call ‘pharma-focused neuromarketing.’
UPDATE: PhRMA sends us this statement concerning social media: “PhRMA is still reviewing the proposal, but there are clear public health benefits for healthcare providers and patients to be able to access truthful, scientifically accurate, and FDA-regulated information about medicines online from the companies that research and develop them,” says Jeff Francer, PhRMA’s assistant general counsel.
The complaint also asks the FTC to probe the impact of ‘e-detailing,’ a growing trend in which docs, nurses and other health care providers are targeted.


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