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FTC Continues Crackdown on Sites that Sell Bogus Health Product; Legitimate Pharma Companies Still Floundering

Two more online marketers — Intermark Communications doing business as Copeac, and and Coulomb Media, Inc., and Cody Low — have agreed to million dollar settlements with the Federal Trade Commission. They will also permanently cease their allegedly deceptive practice of using fake news websites to promote acai berry supplements and so-called "colon cleansers".

These settlements are part of the FTC's push, begun in 2010, to target sites that position themselves as news sites, but in reality promote products for sale.

Legitimate Advertisers

The news is no doubt gratifying to consumer advocates, but also probably a bit frustrating to legitimate pharmaceutical marketers that have been hoping for more attention from regulators on their online activities–in the form of guidance on what is appropriate marketing.

Some progress, however is being made, albeit in very slow increments. According to a March 2012 article in Searcher, The Magazine for Database Professionals, notes that in December 2011  the FDA issued a "Draft Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices" in which the agency defined the difference between unsolicited and solicited requests for off-label information, "laying out fairly specific response guidelines for pharma to follow when engaging in social media," the article said.

This has become an issue ever since last year when Facebook disallowed pharma companies from disabling comments on their brand pages. Many pharma companies felt they had to shut down their pages as a result because if customer comments discussed off-label use of drugs, the pharma manufacturer could have found itself in trouble. In the guidance, the FDA defines unsolicited requests as "those initiated by persons or entities that are completely independent of the relevant firm."

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