My CDD is very pleased to have received a copy of this letter sent to the FTC and FDA by Consumers Union.Â It underscores how the issues around sensitive data and sensitive users are a critical part of consumer protection online.Â We are also pleased about the positive coverage our complaint has received from the press, including the New York Times, CBS/Moneywatch, and other publications.
December 1, 2010
Chairman Jon Leibowitz
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DCÂ 20580
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, urges the Federal Trade Commission to accept the request of November 23, 2010 from several petitioners â€œto investigate unfair and deceptive advertising practices that consumers face as they seek health information and services online.â€
The very detailed 144-page filing is by the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and the World Privacy Forum. Among the companies named in the complaint are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, WebMD, Quality Health, Everyday Health, and Health Central. The complaint explains how non-traditional pharmaceutical advertising on the internet and elsewhere uses a wide range of tools and disguises to convince consumers to use various drug products. These advertisements frequently hide the fact that they are funded by the drug manufacturer and they often fail to give any hint of side effects or possible adverse events from use of the drugs.
We have not independently examined each of the documents cited in the complaint or the context in which they were used. But the documents are overwhelmingly explicit in their description of how to take information consumers would consider very private (the decision to type in a health-related word or phrase on a website) and consciously and unconsciously manipulate those consumers into the use of specific prescription drug products.
The mass of documents in the complaint are shocking in their totality and their implication for privacy and the use of pharmaceuticals with potentially dangerous side effects or questionable efficacies.
We urge the Commission to begin an immediate investigation pursuant to the requests in the complaint. Thank you for your consideration.
Health Policy Analyst