The FDA Wants to Monitor the Population’s Compliance with Big Pharma

I don’t think monitoring social media is the same as “spying” unless they violate privacy settings. But before I talk about the recent happenings on the part of the FDA, let me remind you of their commitment to doing espionage for their owners, the corporations they pretend to regulate.

From Washington’s Blog (originally posted in 2012).

When one of the most respected radiologists in America – the former head of the radiology department at Yale University – attempted to blow the whistle on the fact that the FDA had approved a medical device manufactured by General Electric because it put out massive amounts of radiation, the FDA installed spyware to record his private emails and surfing activities (including installing cameras to snap pictures of his screen), and then used the information to smear him and other whistleblowers.

This recently became a Fox News story:

The dispute that prompted the surveillance stretches back to 2009, when Dr. Robert Smith and several other FDA reviewers sent letters to Congress and the incoming Obama administration about alleged misconduct in the agency’s medical device center.

Smith and others later took their complaints to the media, claiming they were bullied and harassed by managers into approving high-tech medical scanners, despite concerns that the devices might needlessly expose patients to excessive radiation levels.


According to the Republican report issued Tuesday, FDA managers hired an outside contractor to begin monitoring Smith’s computer in April 2010, eventually expanding the surveillance to four other employees. At the same time that the whistleblowers were seeking an investigation by the HHS inspector general, their managers were urging the same inspectors to open a criminal investigation into the whistleblowers’ disclosures about products under review.

According to this Fox Report, the monitoring included spyware that took a screenshot every seven seconds. So they were basically spying on everything the whistleblowers did, not just work-related emails.

With that background in mind, consider this report from the Nextgov blog:

The Food and Drug Administration is looking for a contractor to monitor social media chatter about the drugs and other products it regulates and how that chatter shifts as a result of FDA risk warnings, solicitation documents show.

The agency is looking for a contractor that can provide historical information about the sorts of conversations consumers are having on blogs, message boards and social media sites about the product classes FDA regulates – such as drugs, medical devices, food and tobacco – and then track when the sentiment or volume of those conversations shifts, according to the sources sought notice posted on Tuesday.

FDA wants to track what makes those conversations spike, rise slowly or trend downward, the notice said, and to gather information about “about social media buzz volume over time, top sources of buzz, most popular forums of online discussion, most-cited news stories, major themes of discussion, sentiment analysis, word clouds and/or message maps, and a sample of verbatim consumer comments.”

As I said, this isn’t spying because, assuming they are not finding a way to hack into accounts who are set as private, they are merely monitoring public information. And one could argue that this is a good thing. Maybe they could use this method to address real needs and concerns.

But that doesn’t seem to be the way the FDA works. Besides pushing food labels on the populace, their history indicates that they like to punish and silence criticism when they can.

(hat tip: