Posted in Legal Troubles

U.S. government announces Google will pay $500 million fine to settle illegal advertising charges

It looks like Google critic David Brandt was right about Google being in bed with rogue online pharmacies. Here’s the Department of Justice:

Online search engine Google Inc. has agreed to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements through its AdWords program targeting consumers in the United States, resulting in the unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the United States, announced Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole; Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island; and  Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA/OCI).  The forfeiture, one of the largest ever in the United States, represents the gross revenue received by Google as a result of Canadian pharmacies advertising through Google’s AdWords program, plus gross revenue made by  Canadian pharmacies from their sales to U.S. consumers.

As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to an admission of wrongdoing.

It looks like justice has been served. This is a pretty steep fine. Obviously, DoJ investigators were able to find strong evidence that Google was flagrantly breaking the law, or Google wouldn’t have settled the charges. The cost of the settlement has already decreased Google’s quarterly profit by 22%, after the company set aside the money it anticipated having to pay the feds.

“This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian on-line pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Neronha. “It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior.   It is about  holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500 million forfeiture, the kind of forfeiture that will not only get Google’s attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America’s pill problem.”

LGB applauds the United States government for holding Google accountable in this case. Perhaps this investigation will cause the Monster of Mountain View to think twice before breaking the law in the future.

Google issued a short, meek statement on the settlement and then refused to comment further. The statement read:

We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago… 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.

It actually took Google years to get around to banning rogue online pharmacy ads. Google’s competitors took such actions back in 2003, but Google did not follow suit. Instead, it behaved unethically and illegally. Now it will pay the price.