FTC Settles with Eli Lilly Over E-Mail Privacy Violation Charges
The Federal Trade Commission Friday settled charges against drug maker Eli Lilly & Co., concluding an investigation into whether the company "violated its own privacy policies when it mistakenly released the e-mail addresses" of more than 600 Prozac patients, the AP/Fresno Bee reports. Patients who had subscribed to a service on the Lilly Web site for an automated e-mail to remind them to take their Prozac received a June e-mail from the company that included the e-mail addresses of all 669 subscribers. According to the FTC, an "inexperienced" Lilly employee who "wasn't properly supervised" sent the e-mail to inform patients that the company planned to end the service. The case marks the first time that the FTC has prosecuted an "unintentional violation of a Web site's privacy policies." The FTC described Lilly's "privacy promises" as "deceptive because the company failed to back them up with adequate security" (Ho, AP/Fresno Bee, 1/21). In addition, the FTC said that the company did not "provide adequate employee training" to prevent privacy violations. J. Howard Beales, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said, "They made a promise which we understood to mean that Lilly employees measure and take steps to protect privacy. They didn't take the measures and steps." Beales said that Lilly will not have to pay fines for the incident, which "was unintentional and not a clear case of fraud" (Hu, CNET News, 1/18). However, the settlement requires Lilly to establish "better safeguards for sensitive information" that "must be reviewed every year." In addition, the agency will fine the company for future violations. Chris Hoofnagle, an Electronic Privacy Information Center attorney, said that the settlement serves as a "notice to the other companies that the practice is no longer acceptable" (AP/Fresno Bee, 1/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.