Google Prepares for a Possible $500-Million Penalty for Illegal Online Pharmacy Advertising, Says WSJ
Google and other web search engines have already tightened their controls for online pharmacy advertising; now they know the penalty for not doing so
As hinted at in Google’s quarterly financial report earlier this year, the company was negotiating a $500-million settlement with the US Dept. of Justice and the FDA Office of Criminal Investigation over its support of online pharmacies that were illegally filling prescriptions through the mail. Now the settlement is official, and the interesting thing is how hardly anyone, including Google itself, had much to say about it. (Earlier, Google had said that the penalty would not be “material” to its financial reporting; meanwhile, DoJ notes that the settlement is “one of the largest ever in the United States.”)
The practices that Google engaged in—allowing non-certified pharmacies to promote themselves, and assisting with its AdWords program—occurred during 2003-2009, a period during which Google was already on notice with DoJ that international transactions for prescription products are illegal. Along the way, the National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) had developed its VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program to accredit online pharmacies—and that is now the accepted accreditation by Google and other search engines. But the problem has by no means gone away; any cursory search of online drug availability will show up rogue pharmacies, including those that NABP has identified on a “Not Recommended” list published this July.
“The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable companies who in their bid for profits violate federal law and put at risk the health and safety of American consumers,” said DoJ deputy attorney general James Cole. “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.”