Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lying Is Not Free Speech

Another doozie from yet another batch of rampant criminal pharmacy spammers:

The United States National Medical Association

Do you buy pharmaceuticals online? The US NMA was specifically established to protect the consumer. Our experts check every online shop for bogus medicines. The blacklist of unreliable or simply fraud shops is updated every week. We strongly recommend to visit our site before buying any medical products online. visit us

Our site http://www.us-nma.com/

The common ways of online cheating are:
- delivery of low quality or fraud products.
- an enormous delay (up to 2-3 months) in delivery of products.
- shops obtain all the credit cards numbers and other credit information and then simply send nothing.
- shops sell unlicensed products they know nothing or very little about.
- shops themselves don't have a license to sell the pharmaceuticals.

Please check our blacklist of unreliable and fraud shops before buying any medical products online!!! Protect your family and yourself.


With all due respect and care.

They forgot another way of course: Lying about being the so-called United States National Medical Association. [rolling my eyes.]

Fortunately that domain is now parked, thanks to the dilgent reporting of spam like this by people who are fed up with receiving it like myself.

The fact that illegal pharmacy spammers resort to such tactics to confuse the public is deplorable. They still consider this type of messaging to be either "free speech" (which is a bogus claim and I'll get to that in a moment) or "marketing". Neither claim is true when the message is a litany of bald-faced lies.

I'll use my old standby company, Coca Cola, as an example again. And no I don't work for Coca Cola, nor do I have any affiliation with them. They're just a good example of long-standing well-documented marketing practices.

Coca Cola used to put copy in their ads which claimed that drinking Coke was "healthful", and "recommended by doctors." We're talking the 1890's through the early 1900's here, when marketing claims were much less easy to regulate. They got into loads of trouble when it naturally turned out that neither claim was true. The drink consisted of high amounts of sugar and corn syrup, which is neither healthful nor recommended by doctors anywhere in the world. They faced a huge amount of criticism over these claims and eventually had to stick to more "fun" messaging in their ads. (e.g.: "Coke Is It!")

For decades, cigarette manufacturers used to make very similar claims, even paying actual doctors to appear in advertisements claiming that smoking was "healthful" and "energizing". We all know how that turned out.

If a pharmaceutical company makes false claims, they can be sued, fined, and put out of business. Their products can be removed from shelves or recalled by the FDA or other organizations around the world. Naturally: many of these companies now think extremely carefully before making an even slightly erroneous statement, and their advertising is highly regulated in almost every country in the world. It's often said that more money is spent by pharmaceutical companies on marketing than they pay for R&D for their actual products. That isn't hard to believe. It's because of how specifically regulated the marketing of pharmaceuticals has become, and it's definitely a good thing that this is the case. The public's safety should be paramount when it comes to unverified marketing claims regarding drugs which can (and do) have massive side-effects. As a consumer, I'd certainly like to know that someone was making sure that the ads for these drugs were not packed full of lies, as the above-quoted message clearly is.

Spammers don't seem to think they need to fit this same standard. They can say whatever they want if it means they will grab a little bit of your hard-earned cash. And if you happen to be slightly less educated than most, that's just fine by them because you'll probably never research the claims they make. I can save you the trouble: not one word of any piece of copy in any pharmacy spam is true. Not one claim on any of their sites is true either. All of them boldly include icons and bogus links claiming that they have the "support" or "sponsorship" of a variety of organizations. Some of them are genuine organizations like the Better Business Bureau or the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). Of course: none of these organizations actually supports or endorses these sites, quite the opposite. The spammers don't care. They flaunt it. They rub our noses in it. They keep lying.

This abuse of these logos has almost become the hallmark of a typically illegal pharmacy, which is not good for the actual watchdog organizations themselves. If they can't police the use of their own name or logo: what's the point of them actually existing in the first place?

So: how can they get away with it? They claim it's "just marketing." I call bullshit. If I walk around any downtown street with a jar full of sand and claim that it's the cure for cancer, that's not marketing. In fact that can be classified as "harmful speech", and "endangering the public welfare". I can be arrested for creating a public nuisance for doing so. If someone who has cancer buys it, and dies of cancer, I can be charged with facilitating their death, since sand is rather obviously not the cure for cancer. If I give a dying woman with a heart condition what I claim to be heart medicine and tell her to pay me "only $2 a pill" and it turns out to be sugar: She can die, and her family or estate can sue me for wrongful death, or even murder, since it was obviously sugar that I gave her. That's not marketing. It's lying.

Not only are the "products" offered by these illegal sites of questionable content (and there is a lot of research out there to attest to that statement,) the used-car-style marketing pitches they use in their millions of spam messages are eggregiously illegal in their use of non-stop lies. The public is at risk, and nobody is stopping these criminals from continuing to send these same messages, or from profiting from the victims they scam every day.

Is any of this "free speech"? It's another claim a lot of particularly stupid spammers like to make, usually those based within the continental U.S. There's a huge gaping hole in that argument though, and it's right there in the U.S. Constitution's first amendment, the same amendment all these U.S.-based lying spammers love to hide behind. It's a bit of a thorny discussion, but as with most legal issues: if you do your research, you'll discover that sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. Yes, some commercial speech is free speech. That is mostly limited to Joe Homeowner putting a "for sale" sign on his lawn. (And in fact, there is actual case law regarding that exact use of "free speech.") There are amendments so that larger corporations (including the likes of Pfizer) can tell people about their heavily regulated products without having to have each commercial last several minutes instead of 30 seconds.

However: that doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want in an advertisement, and then turn around and call that "free speech." Similarly: An average citizen cannot threaten someone with death, and claim that they were exercising their "free speech rights." Neither the law, the constitution, or this amendment allow for these acts toi be protected.

And I quote:

certain commercial speech is not entitled to protection; the informational function of advertising is the First Amendment concern and if it does not accurately inform the public about lawful activity, it can be suppressed.

The message I quoted above purely violates that amendment. It's only one of several hundred such messages I receive daily.

It's lying in its statement of who it claims to represent (The United States National Medical Association). If one were to look that up, they would discover that the actual NMA describes itself as "the largest and oldest national organization representing African-American physicians and their patients in the United States." [Wikipedia] That kind of misrepresentation is considered libelous, and the Actual NMA would have a rock solid case, should they choose to sue these malicious and illegally-operating spammers.

The message further lies about their so-called "blacklist". There is no such list.

And of course they're lying about their claim of being "specifically established to protect the consumer".

They also lie about having "experts" on their staff, at least when it comes to any kind of medical expert. The only "experts" they hire are criminals who are adept at lying and hijacking public servers, and who can create botnets to infect the public's PC's so that they can then be used by these same criminals for spamming messages like these.

The day that someone cracks down on these imbeciles will be a great day indeed. In the meantime we have more of this crap coming by the hour. I for one don't intend to take it sitting down.

SiL / IKS / concerned citizen

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