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How Some Web Sites Sell Your Information to Drug Companies

June 06, 2009 | 14,595 views

InternetRealAge, a Web site that promises to help shave years off your age, has become one of the most popular tests on the Internet. More than 27 million people have taken the site’s test, which asks 150 or so questions about lifestyle and family history to assign a “biological age,” how young or old your habits make you.

 

Then, RealAge makes recommendations on how to get “younger,” like taking multivitamins, eating breakfast and flossing your teeth.

 

But while RealAge purports to promote better living through non-medical solutions, it makes its money by selling better living through drugs. RealAge acts as a clearinghouse for drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

 

The companies pay RealAge to compile test results of RealAge members and send them marketing messages by e-mail. The drug companies can even use RealAge answers to find people who show symptoms of a disease, and begin sending them messages about it even before the people have received a diagnosis from their doctors.

While few people would fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and hand it over to a drug company sales department, that is essentially what RealAge is doing.

 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

RealAge is a potential goldmine for drug companies, who can easily gain access to any personal health information you input into the site (as long as you also opt for a “free membership,” which they prompt you to do numerous times).

 

If you indicate that you’re sexually active, taking antidepressants, in an unhappy marriage, or list symptoms of any number of diseases, you can expect your Inbox to be bombarded with a series of messages about a condition you might have, sponsored by a drug company that sells a medication for that very condition.

 

What makes this all the more underhanded is that RealAge presents itself as a tool to help you live a better life through non-drug solutions. But as the New York Times aptly put it, in reality “it makes its money by selling better living through drugs.”

 

This sounds a lot less like a helpful tool to “live life to the youngest,” as their slogan goes, and a lot more like a carefully orchestrated tool for disease mongering.

A Not-So-Subtle Message: You’re Sick and You Need Drugs

Drug companies are masters at inventing non-existent diseases and exaggerating minor ones, with the end result making you rush to your doctor to request their drug solutions.

 

Do you have trouble sleeping? Sad sometimes? Feeling anxious? Itchy? Bloated? There are drugs out there for that, and the drug companies want you to know it.

 

Now with seemingly innocent Web sites like RealAge, they get access to your most personal symptoms and emotions, and they can subtly use your admissions to make you wonder, “What if?”

 

What if your fatigue is cause for alarm? What if your shyness is actually a phobia? What if your boredom is actually depression?

 

The similar thread that runs through all of these questions, of course, is fear.

 

And that is ultimately what RealAge’s drug-sponsored e-mails will end up instilling in you.

 

As far as the drug companies go, they’re more than willing to go the extra mile to make you a new customer. They have been hiring outside firms to purchase data on doctors’ prescribing habits since the mid-1990s. And drug companies spend $4 billion each year on direct-to-consumer ads.

 

Further, the pharmaceutical industry spent $1.5 billion lobbying Congress in the last decade, and in so doing has manipulated the government’s involvement with medicine and secondarily reinforced our dependence on them, through government policies.

 

But as for Web sites selling your private health information to drug companies on the sly, while I’m sure it’s happening more and more I think it represents a new corporate low.

Protecting Your Privacy on the Web

This serves as an excellent reminder that you need to be very careful about giving out personal information over the Internet. When you do, make sure the Web site is reputable and that you have read and understand their privacy policy. If you can’t find a privacy policy, it’s probably not a wise idea to give them any of your information.

 

Let me reassure you that at Mercola.com we NEVER let anyone have your data and you can read our privacy policy here.


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