RealAge: Selling your medical secrets to Big Pharma?

If one of the big pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline, asked you to fill out a detailed questionnaire on your health so that they could turn around and use this information to e-mail you prescription drug advertising, would you do it?

I’d guess that most people wouldn’t. In fact, many would be insulted at being asked to reveal their medical secrets to help Big Pharma make a buck.

And yet, close to 30 million people have effectively done just this — by clicking on Internet ads to take a quiz by RealAge that claims to calculate their true “biological age.”

As the New York Times has reported:

RealAge allows drug companies to send e-mail messages based on those test results. It acts as a clearinghouse for drug companies, including Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, allowing them to use almost any combination of answers from the test to find people to market to, including whether someone is taking antidepressants, how sexually active they are and even if their marriage is happy.

As RealAge’s marketing vice president proudly put it: “If you want to reach males over 60 that are high blood pressure sufferers in northwest Buffalo with under $50,000 household income that also have a high risk of diabetes, you could.”

I should clarify that RealAge doesn’t sell its members’ names, e-mail addresses or individual health data to its Big Pharma advertisers. Instead, it analyzes your quiz results, then sends you newsletters in which the ads you see are determined based on your answers to the RealAge quiz.

Still a little creepy, isn’t it?

We have to agree with Mark Sisson’s take on the quiz at Mark’s Daily Apple:

In our culture, we’re supposed to want to feel and look younger. Shedding the years (however symbolically) might make us feel better (or worse) in the moment, but it’s ultimately a gimmick.

A gimmick designed to make money — to the tune of more than $20 million per year.

And while the information isn’t sold directly to Pfizer or Glaxo, the fact remains that your medical secrets are RealAge’s most coveted product, and Big Pharma is the customer.

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