Drug advertisers use search data to product their products.
Pharmaceutical marketers have turned to Facebook to generate awareness of their drug products in recent years. The social media company can target users based on their interests, which is exactly what drug makers are looking for –not necessarily because those on Facebook are searching for the drugs themselves, but because the companies can gather information from their demographics to determine whether they likely suffer from illnesses that their drugs treat.
The Markup’s Citizen Browser project collects Facebook user data to identify ads for prescription pharmaceuticals targeted at people who search related topics or join certain groups. The Markup found, “awareness of a disease is a frequent proxy for illness in targeting decisions made by advertisers.”
For example, if a Facebook user is searching for diabetes awareness groups, a pharmaceutical giant that markets insulin might introduce ads for its drug products. Zejula, an ovarian cancer drug manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was targeted at users who had shown an interest in “cancer awareness.” Brilinta, from AstraZeneca, was marketed to those searching for “stroke awareness.” And there are numerous other examples.
Closely related searches, such as those interested in “cigarettes” being marketed pulmonary disease drugs, also occurred. Sometimes, there was a more general correlation…