Almost every week there seems to be another story about a Government or state agent censoring the internet, so it is in way refreshing that this story is slightly different. But sadly it is another online censorship story and this time, the culprit is the Big Pharma companies of the USA.
According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Big Pharma has been employing a shadow regulation network, as the EFF have termed it, to privately censor the internet to protect their monopoly of the US market and keep drug prices in the US artificially high.
High US Costs
US citizens pay some of the highest prices in the world for their pharmaceuticals and of course, this is something the Big Pharma companies are keen to continue as it bumps up their profits.
There are laws in place to prohibit Americans from importing pharmaceuticals from overseas. However, it is legal for to import up to 90 days’ worth of some drugs for their personal use, and this can be done either by crossing the border themselves or through online purchases which are then delivered to them.
Inevitably there are plenty of online pharmaceutical companies based overseas who are more than happy to sell to American consumers and ship the products to the US.
The legal situation means this is not something the Big Pharma companies can challenge through the courts, so they have found another way to do it, by privately censoring such sites to make it harder for US citizens to source the pharmaceuticals they are legally allowed to buy.
This private censorship has been dubbed ‘Shadow Regulation’ by the EFF and it is an issue they have raised before. In the pharmaceutical trade, it is built around two trade associations, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) which represents the Big Pharma companies and Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) which represents online platforms and payments processors.
The other key player is an organization called LegitScript, which has close links to the US Government and holds a number of contracts with them. These organisations run a register of approved online pharmacy sites which excludes any site based outside the USA.
That seems reasonable, although it should be noted that another reputable register, which does include approved overseas-based pharmacies ca be found at PharmacyChecker.com.
However, this register is not just used to allow consumers to ensure they are buying their drugs from a safe site. It is also used as a tool to try and stop US citizens from finding online sites which will sell them legitimate drugs for less.
How it is done
The first method is doing this is by denying them access to the new .pharmacy domain name. This is currently only available to those sites which are on the ASOP and CSIP approved list. EFF are arguing, quite powerfully, that it should be available to any site which is licensed dispense medicine in the USA. This would include all the overseas sites currently excluded from that list.
Other tactics used include blacklisting overseas sites from popular online payments services (many of which are members of CSIP) and blocking access to online advertising opportunities (which are run by companies like Google, also a member of CSIP).
The combined effect of these methods is to effectively hide these sites from consumers. Most consumers will not hunt too far to find a site to buy their medication from. They will want to see a reputable looking site with a reputable domain name. And if they can’t purchase their products easily, using payment methods they know, they will often just go elsewhere.
So even if these sites are technically still there, if they are hidden from view they may as well not be. The US people are being denied access to the affordable medication they are legally allowed to buy because it is not in the interests of the Big Pharma companies for them to do so.
The practice is every bit as shocking as those regimes who practice online censorship to cement their power, and the more you look at it, the more the comparison stands up.
So what can US citizens do? Well, checking out the PharmacyChecker.com list is a good place to start, and another option is to use a VPN to fool search engines into thinking you are in another country, such as Canada, and seeing what options come up for you then.
They key is to do your research and not just buy the first thing you find, regardless of the price. Because this is exactly what Big Pharma wants you to do.