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    New York Times: Online Age Quiz Is a Window for Drug Makers

    The New York Times highlights a Web site that is gathering and distributing individuals’ health data to drug companies without clearly explaining this data sharing.

    Pharmaceutical 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 receiveda diagnosis from their doctors.

    While few people would fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and hand it over to a drug company looking for suggestions for new medications, that is essentially what RealAge is doing. […]

    RealAge allows drug companies to send e-mail messages based on those test results. It acts as a clearinghouse for drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, allowing them to use almost any combination of answers from the test to find people to market to, including whether someone is taking antidepressants, how sexually active they are and even if their marriage is happy. […]

    RealAge’s privacy policy does not specifically address the firm’s relationship with drug companies, but does state, in part, “we will share your personal data with third parties to fulfill the services that you have asked us to provide to you,” and it adds test results to its database only when respondents become RealAge members. Some critics, however, charge that consumers do not have enough information when they join.

    “Literally millions of people have unknowingly signed up,” said Peter Lurie, the deputy director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a public interest group in Washington. The company, he said, “can create a group of people, and hit them up and create anxiety even though the person does not have a diagnosis.”

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