Thursday, April 26, 2007

ProMED-Mail Gets Screen-Scraped

(Analysis) First, counterfeit medicine. Now a counterfeit RSS feed threatens global health.

I have long wished that ProMED-mail, an incredibly valuable e-mail list for monitoring outbreaks and emerging diseases around the world, came with its own RSS feed. That way I could easily monitor it—along with lots of other global health news sources—with a feed reader instead of adding to my overburdened e-mail inbox or by clicking on ProMED’s homepage.

Now it looks as if someone—possibly Raquel Martín Iguacel of Spain—has beaten International Society for Infectious Disease (the originators of the Pro-MED e-list) to the punch by creating what is, in essence, a counterfeit RSS feed of ProMED reports.

Naturally, this being the Internet Age, in which everyone is trying to monetize everything, whoever has created the unofficial ProMED RSS feed is also running Google Ads next to it.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s start with the fact that the items in the feed don’t link back to the original ProMED posts, so how do you really know that what you’re getting comes from ProMED?

Counterfeit feeds—you usually see them referred to as “screen-scraped feeds”—are nothing new on the Internet, but they are a disturbing development in global health.

“Innovate or die,” as the old saying goes. But in this case, it’s “innovate or watch someone else take your idea and run with it.” Hey, folks at ISID—are you paying attention to this development?

The feed of ProMED-mail is hosted at the blogger site

It appears the site has been available since late December 2006.

Although there is no user profile on that page and no contact information (more red flags), the blog refers to, which contains a copyright notice (irony of ironies) by Raquel Martín Iguacel. A search for “Raquel Martín Iguacel” on Google reveals little more.

I’m going to contact Lawrence Madoff, editor of the real ProMED mail and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, for his reaction. Will let you know.

Update (4/27/07): Madoff wasn't aware of the bogus feed but, as luck would have, ProMED has just started offering an RSS feed. Read more of Madoff's reply here.

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