Privacy Group Sues Albertsons

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Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an advocacy group based in San Diego, said last week that it filed a lawsuit in a California court alleging that supermarket chain Albertsons and its pharmacies violated consumers' privacy by direct marketing to them on behalf of pharmaceutical companies without permission.


The lawsuit claims that Albertsons and its pharmacy units Sav-On, Osco and Jewel-Osco engaged in unfair business practices and untrue or misleading advertising prohibited by California law. The suit was filed in May in state Superior Court in San Diego County.


According to the complaint, Albertsons sends marketing letters and makes telemarketing calls to its prescription drug customers on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. It claims the solicitations are done by Albertsons directly or through direct marketing services firms.


The complaint alleges that "Albertsons never discloses the Drug Marketing Program to its customers and proceeds with the Drug Marketing Program without customer knowledge, authorization, or consent. Albertsons also does not disclose and attempts to conceal the actual purpose of the Drug Marketing Program and misleads consumers by cleverly disguising the direct marketing and advertising letters of the Program as being for the salutary purpose of 'reminding' consumers to renew their prescriptions or 'informing' them of drugs that are available for their medical conditions."


Albertsons has said that the allegations are false and that it will defend itself.


Though the suit does not mention any violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, similar practices are permissible under that law. According to a Direct Marketing Association fact sheet on HIPAA, the following scenario is permissible: "A pharmacy sends its customers a reminder to take their prescriptions. A pharmaceutical company pays for this mailing."


The complaint can be read in its entirety at www.privacyrights.org.


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