Procter & Gamble Co.Corporate Headquarters
(Photo : Scott Olson/Getty Images) CINCINNATI - JULY 15: Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) corporate headquarters is seen July 15, 2008 in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.

Facebook ads had become a major destination for drug manufacturers who are looking to expand their customer base.

The use of social media giant's targeted ads had attracted big pharmaceutical companies, as it could show ads to users based on interests and activities and its capability to show ads to those potential patients.

How Do Facebook Ads Help Big Pharma in Finding Potential Customers?

Big pharmaceutical companies have been spending billions on Facebook ads as the feature helps them target their ads to users who likely suffer from specific illnesses.

According to the data gathered by Markup's Citizen Browser project, which Markup reported on May 6, people who marked interests in "oxygen," "bourbon," and "Diabetes mellitus awareness" had seen an increase in ads for prescription pharmaceuticals.

The project also found that people who had shown an interest in "cancer awareness" have seen ads on Facebook that offers Zejula, a drug by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline that is prescribed for advanced ovarian cancer patients.

Facebook also built "community pages" to bring together users who share a particular medical condition, which was ultimately sponsored by drug manufacturers who offer medicine to treat community members' condition.

"Pharma is as anxious to use social media as social media is to sell it to them," consulting firm DTC Perspectives CEO Bob Ehrlich said.

Additionally, Facebook had also started utilizing Marketplace and search results to put ads in, going directly against the search engine giant Google.

However, the report clarifies that Facebook ads do not offer advertisers categories that explicitly identify people's health conditions. The company established a collection of health-related data that is considered sensitive.

These data include people who suffer from medical procedures, testing, treatment, and types of medical devices and health trackers that a person uses.

Also Read: Goodbye Facebook: SAP, Chobani, and Pfizer Also Boycotting Facebook Ads

Privacy Concerns Utilizing Facebook Ads

Facebook's targeted ads have had their fair share of criticisms, but the most notable one is social media users' privacy concern.

Apart from paying a $5 billion fine to settle privacy concerns when they were alleged to have improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million Facebook users, a well-known company said that Facebook's targeted ads are not even the most effective advertising strategy.

Procter & Gamble Co.Corporate Headquarters
(Photo : Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI - JULY 15: Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) corporate headquarters is seen July 15, 2008 in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.

Even privacy experts were skeptical of Facebook's strategy to keep its users' sensitive health information private.

"It's too little too late. It doesn't address some of the fundamental issues that the design and the use of the platform have created," The Harlow Group principal and healthcare lawyer David Harlow said.

Facebook spokesperson Tom Channick said that the social media giant does not collect user's medical history for advertisers to take advantage of; rather, they focus on user's activities to assess interest categories.

Most pharmaceutical companies who have been running ads on Facebook declined to comment about their advertising practices, while Novartis spokesperson Jamie Bennett defended that their company's main goal is to reach target audiences "where it matters simply."

Related Article: Signal Reveals Too Much Truth About Facebook Ads, Gets Banned From Running Ads

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Written by Leigh Mercer

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