Privacy groups ask FTC to probe online marketing

Privacy advocates worry that pharmaceutical companies are being sneaky about gathering information on web-surfing patients, and they're asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate how that information is used in drug marketing. What's more, they're suggesting that FDA hold off on proposing social-media regulations for drugmakers until the FTC has looked into their complaint.

Four pro-privacy groups petitioned the agency--the Center for Digital Democracy, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the World Privacy Forum, and Consumer Watchdog. Among their complaints: marketing firms that use disease-awareness sites to identify potential patients, and then track those individual users, collecting information about their online behavior and using that info to tailor marketing messages especially for them.

The groups also question drugmakers' use of "unbranded" websites and online video channels that link to promotional sites for particular products; social-media data mining, which allows companies to "eavesdrop" on consumers' online health discussions; and various online tracking-and-targeting techniques, including e-newsletters and drug coupons.

The FTC wouldn't comment on the 144-page complaint, Reuters reports. But PhRMA issued a statement to Pharmalot, saying that "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."

- get the release from the privacy groups
- see the Reuters news
- check out the Pharmalot post
- read the National Journal article