Google to Pay $500 Million Over Illegal Pharmacy Ads

In one of the largest fines of its kind ever levied in the United States, Google will be paying big to settle charges that it posted marketing for illegal pharmacies that were targeting U.S. residents, according to the Justice Department. The ads led to illegal import of prescription drugs, said the Justice Department, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Post and LA Times reported that Google will be paying $500, the amount it made selling drug ads for Canadian pharmacies as well as revenue Canadian pharmacies made from sales to customers in the United States. An investigation has been ongoing since May, when the Washington Post began following the story, over allegations that Google made money from ads touting illegal online pharmacies.

The announcement was made by U.S District Attorney for Rhode Island, Peter Neronha, who noted that Google won’t be facing criminal prosecution.

Google acknowledged it helped Canadian online pharmacies target advertising for illegal organizations and, according to the settlement agreement, this was accomplished through Google’s AdWords, said The Washington Post. Google also agreed to take responsibility for its actions, in addition to paying the $500 million settlement, and has been mandated to follow a “number of compliance and reporting measures” to ensure similar actions do not occur, noted The Washington Post.

“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” said a recently emailed statement from Google, wrote The Washington Post. “However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place. Given the extensive coverage this settlement has already received, we won’t be commenting further,” Google responded.

Meanwhile, said the Washington Post, Google settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this March over privacy issues and acknowledged that it is also under an FTC investigation for search practices. Google was also criticized in Europe over privacy standards for its Street View mapping program, added The Washington Post.

The government investigation revealed that Google has been aware, as far back as 2003, that a number of online pharmacies in Canada were selling drugs to U.S. citizens with no valid prescriptions, said the LA Times. “This settlement ensures that Google will reform its improper advertising practices with regard to these pharmacies while paying one of the largest financial forfeiture penalties in history,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, in a statement yesterday, wrote the Times.

“Google acknowledges that it improperly assisted Canadian online pharmacy advertisers,” said the Justice Department, wrote the LA Times. “While we banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place,” the company responded.

Media outlets reported in May that Google disclosed it put aside $500 million for a possible settlement over a government investigation into how it handled its advertising business.

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