June 16, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Making Juul and IQOS more addictive to sell more pods and heetsticks: Facebook meets the Medellín Cartel

Colorado Public Radio ran an important story last week on the implications of the fact that PMI’s IQOS can already communicate back to Philip Morris and Juul is talking about activating the same capability to its e-cigs.  The title says it all:  As E-Cigarettes Get More Sophisticated, Questions Mount About Privacy, Potential To Maximize Addiction.

These capabilities are being presented as benign ways to give users helpful information like when to clean the IQOS or buy more heetsticks (the tobacco plugs IQOS heats), but they will also enable PMI and Juul (and any other company that adopts similar technology) the ability to track the detailed puffing behavior of users to “tune” the device so that it maximizes consumption (i.e., sales of heetsticks and pods) to maximize sales and profits. 

Everyone knows that you recharge the Juul by putting it on a stand that plugs into a USB port.  That takes two electric contacts (positive and negative).  When I asked what the other two contacts on the bottom of the Juul are, I was told “data.”

This is a very important issue that should draw the attention of national media (NPR could pick the story up from CPR) and privacy advocates well beyond the usual public health crowd.

The FDA should prohibit any two-way communication between these devices and any outside agent, including the user.  (While the FDA’s guidance on e-cigs mentions software in general, it doesn’t have a word about privacy or remote manipulation of these devices.)

The story is here:  https://www.cpr.org/news/story/with-e-cigarettes-getting-more-sophisticated-questions-mount-about-technology-s-potential

For people who are not as old as I am, the Medellín Cartel was a notorious drug cartel.  Facebook’s abuse of privacy has been the topic of widespread discussion, but no meaningful action to control it.  (That’s why I never had a Facebook account.)

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