The way things stand now, consumers’ personal information — often sensitive stuff about our health — is being sold without our knowledge or consent to on-line marketers; they then use it to bombard us with sales pitches for expensive drugs, medical devices and even surgical procedures.
How does this happen? Let’s say that you’ve had a pain in your chest for the past two days. If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to see a doctor. Instead you rush to your trusty computer and google “heart attack” or “chest pain” and try to figure out by wading through scores of websites, blogs, scholarly medical journals and interactive quizzes, whether you should call 911 immediately or stop snacking on Jalapeno peppers.
But when you make such a query, according to a 144-page complaint filed last week with the FTC by several consumer groups (the Center for Digital Democracy, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum), mechanisms designed to pick up your medical information are lurking everywhere. “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 treatment for health conditions,” states the complaint.