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(To help you visualize the scene, see the famous Coca-Cola Santa image. Now imagine Peter Frishauf asking Santa for that train set!)

Dear Santa,

I always believed in you Santa. All those kids who said it wasn’t true, you weren’t real, well guess what: I knew you were.

I wanna tell you, Santa, life is hard for us e-health boys and girls.

Trouble started last month.  There was this article, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Medical Science.” Santa, you wouldn’t believe it! They’re trying to tell me that all that scientific medical evidence that come out of academic medical centers isn’t all true. Just like you, Santa.

It gets worse, Santa. A bunch of new people are saying bad things about all those free e-health sites, you know, like AOLHealthEveryday Health, HealthCentral, Healthline, MedHelp, Patients Like Me, QualityHealth, WebMD. At least they didn’t mention one of my favorites,, although they did throw in Google and Microsoft for good measure.

You’re right, Santa, I meant Yes, Santa, I know you love mayonnaise. And now I know you visit all the time. I thought your tummy was from bowls full of jelly.

So here’s the thing, Santa: This group has gone and told the government, you know, the FTC, that these sites have been BAD, that all they get for Christmas is a lump of coal.

Yesss… Santa, I know the coal industry doesn’t advertise on health sites. Can I finish?

O.k., so they’re saying these free sites, aren’t REALLY free Santa – that  they’re just tricking us. They get our names, Santa. Then they find out the stuff we think is interesting. Then they tell marketing people about us Santa.  And they try and sell us stuff. Someone spends money and they make a profit so if someone’s paying, it can’t be free, right, Santa?

What do you mean, Santa: “How do you know I’m not doing the same thing?”  You’re Santa, Santa!

Wanna know just how bad these people are, Santa? You wouldn’t believe it.  They tell people to go read their privacy policies.  Like, you know, the one on Patients Like Me. I printed it out, Santa ,so you can see how bad they are, cause they say right on their home page that I can:

Learn all about us. Ask us anything. Why do we embrace openness, and what about your privacy? How do we make money and who are our partners? Take a moment to read this and find out.


So that’s bad, right, Santa?  I mean they say, “We take the information patients share about their experience with the disease, and sell it…”  That sounds really bad, Santa. And these bad sites, Santa, are my friends, so that must make me bad too.

Another thing, Santa. When I started Medscape back in 1995 it was free too, and we told everyone they had to give us their names and we would know their interests and then they would get both noncommercial and commercial information. I got lots of fan mail, saying it’s good, Santa. Still do, even though I haven’t been there for years. Never got a complaint. Millions of people of people say they love it, just like they love you.

What do you mean, Santa, you think it’s o.k., as long as they tell you what the deal is? And what do you mean, “I work for Macy’s?”

Yes, Santa, I do want the train set. Those nice people at Macy’s let you set up shop so you can find out who’s been bad and who’s been good.  No, I wouldn’t like it if I had to pay to see Santa.

So, Santa, if those academic studies are bad, if all these sites are bad, and you can tell the government on them, that must mean the government health sites are good, right Santa?

No, I didn’t know that in the 90s, the government’s CDC site said that condoms were good, and then between 2002 and 2008 they said they were bad, and now they say they’re good again.  They must have heard it from the Pope. I hear he likes condoms now, too.  He’s good like you, Santa. Or maybe we’re all just fools, damn fools.

(Thanks to Mark Boulding for pointing out to me, way back in 1999, the critical distinction between and that is so important to Santa.)

Suggested Readings:

  1. Frishauf, P:  Fixing Those Damn Lies, October 20, 2010. Accessed 11/29/2010.
  2. Singer, N: Privacy Groups Fault Online Health Sites for Sharing User Data With Marketers The New York Times, November 23, 2010. Accessed 11/29/2010
  3. FTC Complaint against Google, Microsoft, QualityHealth, WebMD, Yahoo, AOL, HealthCentral, Healthline, Everyday Health, and Others filed by the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog and World Privacy Forum. Accessed 11/29/2010 at


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