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The downtown Chicago skyline. Photo: Kiichiro Sato / AP

A Chicago-based startup valued at $5.5 billion misled advertisers with manipulated information about effectives and targeting of ads, the WSJ reports on A1. The company, Outcome Health, installs screens in doctors' offices and charges pharmaceutical companies to run ads on them. It boasts $500 million in backing from heavyweight investors including Goldman Sachs, Google's parent, Alphabet, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, and a few others.

The result: The altered reports and data could have increased business for Outcome, which doesn't publicly disclose results but estimated sales for 2016 at around $130 million.

The allegations:

  • Outcome misled advertisers that the company was verifying that certain ads played on certain doctors' screens, according to former employees of the company, several advertisers, and internal documents, per the WSJ.
  • One of the issues an independent counsel will review is that sometimes the startup was offering up doctors' offices where there were no screens, per Lanny Davis, Outcome's newly hired spokesperson. According to some documents, Johnson & Johnson alleged they were charged for ads in offices without screens.
  • The company allegedly manipulated third-party analyses showing the effectiveness of the ads, and WSJ reports Ashik Desai, Chief Growth Officer at Outcome, responded to the patient response to the ads by saying "Yea I'd inflate it a bit more :)"
  • When advertisers asked for verification of where their ads were running, people who prepared the documents said they took screenshots of ads from their own computers and edited them to make it look like they were the real deal. Davis said the independent counsel will review this issue but said "We do not know of any instance in which this happened."

Action now: Outcome is providing free advertising to customers, which it does when contract terms aren't met. Outcome hired a lawyer, Lanny Davis, as a spokesperson after the WSJ inquiries, who said the startup is reviewing allegations about some employees' conduct that's been raised internally and that Outcome "has always upheld the highest ethical standards."

The WSJ reports there doesn't appear to be evidence suggesting top executives' involvement in the misleading advertisers.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.