The Federal Trade Commission took historic action against the medication discount service GoodRx Wednesday, issuing a $1.5 million fine against the company for sharing data about users’ prescriptions with Facebook, Google, and others. It’s a move that could usher in a new era of health privacy in the United States.
“Digital health companies and mobile apps should not cash in on consumer’s extremely sensitive and personally identifiable health information,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement.
In addition to a fine, GoodRx has agreed to a first-of-its-kind provision banning the company from sharing health data with third parties for advertising purposes. That may sound unsurprising, but many consumers don’t realize that health privacy laws generally don’t apply to companies that aren’t affiliated with doctors or insurance companies.
GoodRx is a health technology company that gives out free coupons for discounts on common medications. The company also connects users with healthcare providers for telehealth visits. GoodRx also shared data about the prescriptions you’re buying and looking up with third-party advertising companies, which incurred the ire of the FTC.
GoodRx’s privacy problems were first uncovered by this reporter in an investigation with Consumer Reports, followed by a similar report in Gizmodo. At the time, if you looked up Viagra, Prozac, PrEP, or any other medication, GoodRx would tell Facebook, Google, and a variety of companies in the ad business, such as Criteo, Branch, and Twilio. GoodRx wasn’t selling the data. Instead, it shared the information so those companies could help GoodRx target its own customers with ads for more drugs.
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