Pharma Companies to Employ Behavioral Targeting with Caution

Last month I blogged about the intricate steps pharmaceutical firms are taking to follow the law when using social media tactics. In particular, most pharma companies disable the comments section on the social media sites to ensure that consumer privacy laws, especially important in this industry, are not breached. But these steps have not been sufficient to quiet the critics.

On Monday, March 1, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) officially asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin “a comprehensive investigation into the use and impact of digital health marketing techniques and technologies.” The CDD is concerned that most consumers are unaware that their Web searches and other online activity enables marketers to track them and later use behavioral targeting. The FDA, which is charged with oversight of direct-​to-​consumer (DTC) drug advertising,  held hearings on digital marketing and regulated drugs in November 2009. While it has not proposed broad reaching legislation, the agency continues to send warning letters to drug companies, especially on “their inappropriate use of search marketing advertising.”

Another government agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has proposed guidelines with respect to digital marketing and behavioral targeting. In particular, marketers are advised to “provide ‘reasonable security’ for consumer data.”  Some of the FTC regulators have hinted that legislation may eventually be forthcoming should marketers be unable to police themselves. The increased scrutiny in the industry points to the need for pharma marketers to walk a fine line between using the power of the Internet to connect with consumers and protecting privacy.

[Sources: Chester, Jeff. CDD Asks FDA to Investigate Marketing of Drugs and Health Products. Center for Digital Democracy. 1 March 2010. Web. 4 March 2010; Davis, Wendy. Privacy Advocates. Mediapost​.com Online Media Daily. 2 Feb. 2009. Web. 4 March 2010] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.