June 20, 2017
Franco did not have psoriasis. But the year before, she remembered, she had searched for information about it online, when a friend was dealing with the condition. And a few months prior to getting the letter, she had also turned to the internet with a question about a skin fungus. It was the sort of browsing anyone might do, on the assumption it was private and anonymous.
Now there was a letter, with her name and home address on it, targeting her as a potential skin-disease patient. Acurian is in the business of recruiting people to take part in clinical trials for drug companies. How had it identified her? She had done nothing that would publicly associate her with having a skin condition.
When she Googled the company, she found lots of people who shared her bewilderment, complaining that they had been contacted by Acurian about their various medical conditions. Particularly troubling was a parent who said her young son had received a letter from Acurian accurately identifying his medical condition and soliciting him for a drug trial—the first piece of mail he’d had addressed to him besides birthday cards from family members.
Image: By EFF – Own work, CC BY 3.0 us, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27598327
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