Friday, February 15, 2013

FDA Regulates Keyword Searches on the Internet

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent a Warning Letter to M.D.R. Fitness Corp., a Florida-based researcher and manufacturer of nutritional supplements.  In the letter, the FDA alleges a number of problems, but the one that's catching attention concerns the company's website search engine.

According to the FDA, typing the keyword "cancer" or "diabetes" into the product search field located on the company's website brings up several products.  Because those products are associated with disease terms, the FDA said, the company is thus “implying that its products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of such diseases,” which make them unapproved new drugs.

In a previous case, the FDA used metadata as evidence of intended use involving another company's dietary supplement.  Metadata are similar to keyword association in that both are largely invisible to the public.  These recent cases indicate that the FDA is targeting word associations on product websites.