Pharmaceutical companies know what drugs you might need before you do, thanks to “matchbacks”

Pharmaceutical marketing has reached a whole new level with the help of $1 trillion in digital marketing efforts. The “matchbacks” process involves codes being assigned to patients based on prescription drug records in order to tailor marketing to individuals. Your name isn’t revealed, and the process is legal, but is this a confidentiality issue? Jordan Robertson and […]

Pharmaceutical marketing has reached a whole new level with the help of $1 trillion in digital marketing efforts. The “matchbacks” process involves codes being assigned to patients based on prescription drug records in order to tailor marketing to individuals. Your name isn’t revealed, and the process is legal, but is this a confidentiality issue? Jordan Robertson and Shannon Pettypiec analyze the issue on Bloomberg.com. A detailed infographic explains each step of the process, including where the information comes from and how it is matched up. The images below are from the Bloomberg infographic.

“Marketers are treating our health data as if we were buying a pair of pants or a book,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy group in Washington. “That’s unconscionable. These are highly personal, sensitive decisions that people make.”

The technique’s growing use is raising alarms that technological advances are undoing protections provided by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal medical privacy law, according to Bloomberg interviews with more than 60 industry executives, regulators and privacy advocates. Websites and data firms exist in a legal blind spot because HIPAA applies to doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, insurance companies and their contractors.

So, yes, all of this is legal, but it does take the privacy issue in conjunction with technology to a new level. Even if your identity is kept confidential, should marketers, drug companies and Yahoo! know what health conditions you have or whether or not you take Viagra?

Regardless, they are making a profit with this process, and we know that means it’s probably staying put unless something changes legally.

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