BOISE, Idaho -- Albertsons here and its pharmacy units have been sued for allegedly violating the privacy rights of customers. The lawsuit alleges the retailer shared private information about prescription customers with pharmaceutical companies in marketing agreements.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, San Diego, said customers of Albertsons, Sav-on, Osco and Jewel-Osco received letters or phone solicitations that appeared to be from their pharmacy reminding them to renew prescriptions or consider an alternative medication. The complaint said that the database of recipients for the marketing program was derived from confidential customer medical information.
Albertsons has denied any wrongdoing.
"We highly value and respect the privacy of our pharmacy customers and do not sell, nor have we ever sold, their private information. We consider the allegations in this complaint to be false and totally without merit, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them," said Karen Ramos, a company spokeswoman, in a press statement.
The case was initially filed in May. However, it did not receive media attention until this month, when names of the drug companies involved were added to the filing. Previously, the companies involved were listed as "John Does," while attorneys involved with the case continued their research.
Among the 18 companies named in the filing are: Aventis, Bridgewater, N.J.; Schering Plough, Kenilworth, N.J.; AstraZeneca, Wilmington, Del.; TAP Pharmaceutical Products, Lake Forest, Ill.; Eli Lilly, Indianapolis; Novartis, New York; Wyeth, Madison, N.J.; Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati; GlaxoSmithKline, London; Merck, Whitehouse Station, N.J.; and Pfizer, New York.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse alleged Albertsons received between $3 and $4 per letter, and between $12 and $15 per phone call from the pharmaceutical companies. The prescriptions addressed in the communications varied, and some included medication-specific information and recommendations, according to sample letters posted on the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Web site.
The letters that were sent also contained an opt-out option for recipients.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is calling for Albertsons to amend its marketing program to offer customers the opportunity to participate by opting in rather than the current opt-out scenario.
"We believe the process needs to be transparent," said Beth Givens, director of the group.
Albertsons' practice was brought to the attention of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse by attorney Jeffrey Krinsk of Finkelstein & Krinsk, San Diego, Givens said. Krinsk said he received calls from recipients of the letters complaining they were harmed by the exposure of sensitive medical information in them.
Because of the privacy issues, individuals were reluctant to come forward in the case, he said, but this is not an isolated incident.
"This is a pervasive problem that a number of pharmaceutical companies confidentially acknowledge is improper, but they feel they cannot give this process up because it would put them at a competitive disadvantage," Krinsk said.