Google was warned repeatedly about accepting ads from rogue pharmacies

google_logo_1024x426-2It’s a problem that has plagued Google for years – how to deal with rogue online drug sellers. A report by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday says that, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the newspaper, the search engine giant was “warned repeatedly” by state regulators and industry watchdogs that a number of online pharmacies advertising on its network were doing so in violation of US laws.

Drugs from rogue sellers can be extremely dangerous – not only can the medication be bought without a prescription, but it might also be out of date. Even worse, the drug could, in some cases, be different to how it’s described on the packaging.

The WSJ report says that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the company knowingly took business from rogue pharmacies. If this is found to be the case, legal experts believe Google could face action over charges of aiding illegal online activity.

This may explain the news earlier this month that the company had set aside the sum of $500 million for a payment it believed it might have to make in relation to an investigation by the US Justice Department regarding its online advertising system. When that news surfaced, the specifics of the case were unknown, but it seems that the WSJ report could well be related to the issue.

According to the WSJ, Food and Drug Administration agents posing as representatives from illegal online pharmacies contacted Google, though whether any evidence was garnered in the sting is not clear.

Yahoo and Microsoft don’t believe they’re under any suspicion regarding the same issue, the report says.

Online pharmacy advertising is big business – research firm eMarketer estimates that it generates revenue of around $1 billion for the search engines, though it’s not certain how much of that is from rogue sellers. The WSJ reports a pretty shocking statistic though: “About 96% of Internet drug outlets appeared to be violating pharmacy laws or standards, according to a 2008 study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, or NABP, a group representing state regulators in the U.S. and Canada.”

The fact that Google had been told about the issue on several occasions since 2003 puts it in something of a sticky position. In a letter written in 2003, for example, the NABP said it was “deeply concerned that these rogue Internet sites could be a front for criminals seeking to introduce adulterated medications, counterfeit drugs, or worse, to the American market.” Nothing was heard from Google in response, says the NABP.

The report says that in a 2008 letter from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) to the then Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, CASA said it had discovered “prominent displays of ads for rogue Internet pharmacies.” This letter came after Google had hired a company called PharmacyChecker to check the pharmacies advertising on its search engine site. PharmacyChecker says it never knowingly approved advertisements from rogue pharmacies.

In 2008, it seemed that Google was beginning to look at the matter more closely. On receiving a list of hundreds of illicit pharmacy advertisers, Google said it found the information “helpful” and that it was being used to “augment our filters for sites that violate our policies.”

The bad news is that LegitScript LLC, which monitors online drug sellers, found in 2009 that there were still serious problems regarding rogue pharmacies on Google’s search engine site. Interestingly, the report also said that “80% and 90% of Yahoo and Microsoft’s respective online drug advertisers were breaking the law.”

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all dropped PharmacyChecker in 2010 and agreed to work with NABP’s list of verified pharmacies. According to the WSJ, Google is now meeting with federal prosecutors in a bid to resolve the issue before it reaches court.


Has it really been 17 years? The past, present, and future of the Xbox

From "DirectX Box" to "720," it's been a long, strange trip for Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. Here is what happened, from its odd beginnings to the rumored Scarlett console with streaming.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in February, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (February 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Legion'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.

Dodge the biggest laptop-buying mistakes with these handy tips

Buying a new laptop is exciting, but you need to watch your footing. There are a number of pitfalls you need to avoid and we're here to help. Check out these top-10 laptop buying mistakes and how to avoid them.

Great PC speakers don't need to break the bank. These are our favorites

Not sure which PC speakers work best with your computer? Here are the best computer speakers on the market, whether you're working with a tight budget or looking to rattle your workstation with top-of-the-line audio components.

The rumors were true. Nvidia’s 1660 Ti GPU, a $280 powerhouse, has arrived

Nvidia has officially launched the GTX 1660 Ti, its next-generation, Turing-based GPU. It promises to deliver all the performance and efficiency for all modern games, but without stepping into the high price range of the RTX series. 

Confused about RSS? Don't be. Here's what it is and how to use it

What is an RSS feed, anyway? This traditional method of following online news is still plenty useful. Let's take a look at what RSS means, and what advantages it has in today's busy world.

Everything you need to know about routers, modems, combos, and mesh networks

Modem vs. router: what's the difference? We explain their functions so you can better diagnose any issues prior to contacting technical support. We also talk about a few variants you'll see offered by ISPs and retailers.

Metro Exodus update brings DLSS improvements to Nvidia RTX 20-series PCs

Having issues in Metro Exodus? A February 21 update for the title recently delivered enhancements to Nvidia’s deep learning supersampling feature and other fixes for low-specced PCs. 

Limited-time sale knocks $500 off the price of the Razer Blade Pro 17

Looking for an ultra-powerful laptop for yourself or someone else? You're in for some luck. Razer is running a sale on some of its best gaming laptops, cutting down pricing on the Razer Blade 15 and the Razer Blade Pro 17. 
Emerging Tech

Engineer turns his old Apple lle into an wheeled robot, and even gives it a sword

How do you give new life to a 30-year-old computer? Software engineer Mike Kohn found a way by transforming his old Apple IIe into a wheeled robot. Check it out in all its 1980s glory.

Want to play as Iron Man or Waluigi in GTA V? Our favorite mods make it possible

Grand Theft Auto V is best on the PC for many reasons, and modifications may be the most important. You can cause riots, spawn unique cars, and play as a cop with just a few extra files.

Does the GTX 1660 Ti's leaner design make it a better GPU than the RTX 2060?

Nvidia's GTX 1660 Ti is a new Turing GPU without ray tracing or DLSS, but how does it compare to its RTX brethren? We pit the 1660 Ti versus the RTX 2060 to find out in this comparison.