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Facebook To Sell User Data To Drug Makers

Facebook is preparing to hold an invitation-only summit dedicated to health on June 6th, right here in New York. CNBC managed to get a photo of the invitation, and its tagline reads “Health in the era of mobile.” They’re apparently making a huge push to begin selling data gathered on Facebook to pharmaceutical companies for their digital marketing initiatives.

The summit is part of an initiative for “Facebook Health”, which is run by a small team reporting to former Google Director Meredith Guerriro. CNBC’s source expects Facebook Health to unveil new additions to the ad product “so pharma companies can more easily plug themselves on the platform.” According to their source, mobile video has been a major focus for the team, and so their tweaks may very well surround the introduction of mobile video advertisements to Facebook.

fNow, unlike other industries, the pharmaceutical industry has strict regulations on “how it can promote its drugs on social channels.” For instance, a drug company may target individuals based on their demographic, or if they have “liked” an advocacy page. They are not allowed to target ads to specific people based on a disease that Facebook knows or suspects an individual has.

But what does this truly mean for Facebookers? Now, their Newsfeeds will be bombarded with video ads from pharmaceutical industries depending on their demographic and their Facebook impressions on advocacy pages. Whereas TV was the alter with which the pharmaceutical industry reached its niche marketing targets, costing billions of dollars annually, now, their advertising initiatives may end up a lot less costly. And the question stands: what type of drugs will be advertised on Facebook? TV advertisement is expensive, and so by default, one could safely assume that the most successful medicines are marketed on TV.

Now, with Facebook as an outlet for marketing, pharmaceutical companies can advertise a plethora of medications to several niche marketing targets. This is great for anyone who truly needs a certain medication and would like to check up with their doctor(s) regarding said medication. But we also believe there are dangerous medications already being marketed to individuals who may not truly need them. Now that the industry may have Facebook user data to spearhead their ad placement, they’ll be able to reach their niche marketing targets with much more efficiency. It’s simply a scary notion that consumers may be bombarded on Facebook with video advertisements on medications.

The United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to market directly to consumers. And critics have expressed concerns that the high expenditures of advertising on TV raise the prices of drugs. Facebook is likely a much less-costly means of advertisement. What could this mean for the price of medications?

Facebook already allows several industries to market products to individuals based on their demographic and Facebook data. But medications are not like the products or services that are advertised toward us on Facebook already. The American Medical Association, the United States’ largest and influential group of doctors, called for a full ban on consumer ads for prescription drugs/medical devices under the belief that ads “encourage patients to seek medicines unnecessarily”. We’d like to hear what your thoughts are on this matter. What repercussions do you believe may occur from pharmaceutical advertisement on Facebook?