Tuesday, March 2, 2010

FDA and Privacy: What Will 2010 Bring?

The Center for Digital Democracy has asked the US Food & Drug Administration to examine how pharmaceutical manufacturers are using behavioral targeting to track and market to consumers online.

The executive director states:
It is essential that the FDA craft regulatory safeguards for Internet-related promotion, especially since interactive communications will become the dominant form for the delivery of health information and advertising to both consumers and health professionals.
The group says that "few U.S. health consumers are aware that they are being identified, labeled, profiled, and tracked on the Internet while they search or access information on specific conditions or concerns." And because a growing number of consumers use the Web to research medical conditions and treatments, privacy advocates worry about how closely manufacturers follow consumer actions online.

In particular, the Center for Digital Democracy would like the FDA to focus on several specific online techniques:
  • Behavioral targeting that can profile and target individual consumers based on Internet behaviors related to illnesses or symptoms.
  • Online channels related to specific diseases or conditions that target consumers without clear disclosure of business sponsorship.
  • "Stealthily" monitoring and analyzing consumers' social media interactions with the goal of generating word-of-mouth brand promotion.
  • Use of neuromarketing to subtly influence consumers' decision about pharma products on a subconscious level.
The FDA held hearings on similar issues late in 2009. Will it take another look in 2010, with an eye toward investigating possible threats to consumer privacy?

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