NEWS24 November 2010

Consumer groups call on FTC to probe health data collection

Legal North America

US— A group of consumer bodies have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “unfair and deceptive practices”, including social media monitoring and behavioural tracking, used by health marketers on the internet.

The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, US PIRG (the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups) and the World Privacy Forum have filed a 144-page complaint detailing marketing and advertising techniques that they say “pose threats to consumers”.

Among the practices highlighted in the file are social media monitoring, which enables pharma companies to “hone marketing campaigns for drug brands”, the complainants say. The practice of collecting data about consumers’ health activities in order to target them in ad campaigns was also flagged.

The consumer groups also take issue with firms promoting drug brands via online word-of-mouth, promoting products through unbranded websites and a lack of distinction between promotional material and editorial content.

Jeff Chester, the Center for Digital Democracy’s executive director, said: “As consumers face growing personal costs for health services, they should not be subject to unfair, deceptive and non-transparent techniques designed to encourage them to seek out forms of treatment, brand medications or be subject to a high-powered data collection system that undermines their privacy.”

The groups have called on the FTC to “examine and analyse the data collection usage practices” of pharmaceutical advertisers to assess how much consumer data is collected through websites, social networks, online video sites and other interactive means.