CDD Asks Food and Drug Administration to Investigate Digital Marketing of Drugs and Health Products

For Immediate Release

Center for Digital Democracy

Jeff Chester (202-494-7100)

CDD Asks Food and Drug Administration to Investigate Digital Marketing of Drugs and Health Products

Urges FDA to Develop Rules to Address Behavioral Targeting and to Protect Consumer Privacy

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) was urged today to protect the health of U.S.
consumers by conducting a comprehensive investigation into the use and
impact of digital health marketing techniques and technologies.
Pharmaceutical and health marketers are already using an array of
digital advertising techniques, including behavioral targeting, social
media marketing, online video and mobile. The Center for Digital
Democracy (CDD), a leading nonprofit group based in Washington, DC,
that specializes in consumer protection for the online marketplace,
made its requests in Comments filed in the FDA's proceeding on the Promotion of Food and Drug Administration-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools.

pharmaceutical websites, as well as on so-called "unbranded" sites,
popular social networks, and interactive video channels, a digital
marketing system designed to more effectively tap into the concerns-and
anxieties-of those seeking health information has emerged. 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. "The health and safety of U.S. consumers must be protected from inappropriate and potentially harmful use of
digital marketing applications that have been embraced by
pharmaceutical and health marketers," explained CDD's Executive
Director Jeff Chester. "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."

consumer group asked the FDA to work with the Federal Trade Commission
and other appropriate agencies to develop a set of policies for
regulating the use of behavioral targeting, data collection, and other
digital techniques in the marketing of drugs and health-related

The FDA held two days of hearings last
November on the role of the Internet and marketing for regulated drugs.
But Chester noted that at those hearings, "pharmaceutical marketers
purposely painted a sanitized, storybook image of social media
marketing. Missing was data and information related to the powerful
capabilities of interactive marketing to promote relationships with
specific brands, including its ability to foster what has been called
consumer ‘micro-persuasion.' ‘Direct-to-Consumer Digital Marketing' of
pharmaceutical and health-related products requires the FDA to
re-evaluate its standards for advertising practices, including what
should be considered as truthful and non-misleading," he explained. CDD
commended the FDA for sending out warning letters to 14 drug companies in April 2009 on their inappropriate use of search marketing advertising.

CDD's FDA filing is available at
CDD is a nonprofit group working to educate the public about the impact
of digital marketing on public health, consumer protection, and
privacy. It has played a leading role at the FTC and in Congress to
help promote the development of legal safeguards for behavioral
targeting and other online data collection practices.


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