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Inside Cochlear Implant Online: Ethics?

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:02pm

(Continued From Part Two)

The Link Between Cochlear Implant Online and C.A.N.

It is not precisely clear what skills C.A.N. is referring to in their FAQ, but when one looks at the Benefits section, the training aspects are outlined. Advocates share their stories, provide resources and so on. This appears to directly fit in what CIO is doing as a cochlear implant resource website. This leads one to easily think that the activities of CIO is solely for being part of the C.A.N. advocacy efforts especially considering the fact that both bloggers, Rachel and Elizabeth are C.A.N. volunteers, and Melissa, which could be arguably called the backbone of CIO, is a C.A.N. volunteer as well. This makes a total of three C.A.N. volunteers involved with CIO.

But could all of this just be a coincidence? That’s difficult to say. Note that Melissa writes, (comment #25), “ Therefore, she gets absolutely no compensation from Cochlear for her volunteer work.” But she didn’t state whether CIO was part of their volunteer activities for C.A.N. or not.

Melissa in her comment (#151) writes, “My hope is that Rachel’s generation forward will be able to transcend this bitterness. She put her blog up on DeafRead to show others what is possible today. Whether or not DeafRead reinstates her blog,she’ll still be online just as she was for 7 years before she put her website on DeafRead. Parents will find her, and then they will find only her and so will only hear what she has to say.By booting her from DeafRead, the editors have shot themselves in the foot, for when parents found Rachel’s blog on DeafRead, they found all points of view in one place. Now, instead, they will only find Rachel’s.” [Emphasis added]

There is no way to pinpoint just how active CIO was active before 2006, since like stated previously, the archives only go back to 2006. When one looks through the archives, there is only one entry in the year of 2006.

Then in the year of 2007 there are only four posts. That brings the total of CIO’s entries prior to joining DeafRead in January 2008, to a grand total of five posts. Now, after joining DeafRead, and before being forcibly inactivated by DeafRead, CIO had one hundred three posts on DeafRead in the span of almost five months. That averages to seventeen posts per month.

Just a mere coincidence there?

The Question of Companies and Their Marketing Ethics

Now, there are some who argue that everyone who read CIO and the DR Team should have known C.A.N. was owned by Cochlear Americas because it’s obvious to them. However, if one looks at the C.A.N. website, in my opinion, it is not immediately apparent that this is owned by Cochlear Americas. The website has a garish background, cheap formatting and numerous typos within the FAQ and elsewhere. While there is a link to Cochlear Americas, there is no statement on C.A.N’s website that they are owned by Cochlear Americas. One has to go to the Cochlear website to see that in fact, Cochlear Americas owns C.A.N. The network happens to be also mentioned in Cochlear Americas’ 2007 annual report.

It goes without saying that C.A.N. being managed by a for-profit company that sells the very product that the network advocates for, Cochlear Americas and the rest of the cochlear implant industry can only stand to benefit from it. It is highly dubious that C.A.N. advocates would present any facts that would cast nothing more than a positive light on CI products.

These actions lead to the question of whether CIO and C.A.N. are engaging in the practice of stealth marketing, which is generally considered to be unethical. From the Advertising and Marketing Bulletin, Stealth marketing, a subset of word-of-mouth marketing (“WOMM”) strategies, is marketing that promotes a product without disclosing any direct connection between the advertiser and the message. [Emphasis added]

Not Only Stealth Marketing but Astroturfing?

And this also leads to the question of whether C.A.N. is engaging in not only stealth marketing, but also what is known as astroturfing. Wikipedia defines astroturfing as: The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert ( disinformation ) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing one’s own personal agenda through to highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations.

One would think that C.A.N. should know about the ethics of marketing, when their director, Jeff Graunke, clearly stated on his LinkedIn page – which now apparently is no longer available, but here’s a screenshot of it: Jeff Graunke\'s LinkedIn Page that clearly states he was a former Regional Sales Manager for Cochlear Americas.

This information is especially disturbing in light of the Federal Trade Commission’s statement, which was published by the Washington Post in 2006, about word of mouth marketing. In the first paragraph of the article, it states: The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.

How can C.A.N. not know marketing ethics? How can Cochlear Americas and other cochlear implant companies not know this either? How can Melissa, considering her C.A.N. training and her magazine writing/editorial background, not have any problems with this?

In light of all of this information, which I never anticipated to just be several mouse clicks away, I feel quite comfortable in saying that DeafRead was fully justified in removing Cochlear Implant Online from their subscriptions. This appears to go far beyond Cochlear Implant Online and all the way up to Cochlear Americas itself. With each mouse click, I uncover more and more information like this. The connections, links and information seems to be never-ending, and I’ve worked on this for long enough. And I’m pretty sure people who are reading this will take it upon themselves to verify the information, and uncover more information. Who knows what we will find next? I am just left standing here, completely staggered…

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