November 23, 2010 - Washington, DC: In a complaint filed today with the Federal Trade Commission, the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and the World Privacy Forum called on the commission to investigate unfair and deceptive advertising practices that consumers face as they seek health information and services online.
Consumers now confront a sophisticated and largely stealth interactive medical marketing apparatus that has unleashed an arsenal of techniques designed to promote the use of specific brand drugs and influence consumers about treatments for health conditions. Much of the online health marketing system has been deliberately structured to collect personal information and other data on consumers, including through the use of free e-newsletters on specific medical concerns; discounts for prescription drugs and services; and via the growing number of other online data profiling techniques.
Nearly $1 billion dollars will be spent this year by online health and medical marketers targeting the growing number of U.S. consumers who increasingly rely on the Internet for information about medical problems, treatments, and prescription drugs.
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,” able to form powerful helping communities. 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. Pharma and other health online marketers are pressing the FDA for new rules that would allow them to expand digital and social media advertising. Before the FDA acts, it should await an investigation and a report by the FTC.
The complaint to the Federal Trade Commission is attached.