The Department of Justice announced that Google has forfeited $500 million over an issue of online advertising. Allowing Canadian pharmacies to promote themselves via Google’s AdWords program, the ads targeted US customers and promoted unlawful importation of prescription drugs.
These Canadian pharmacies ran with no requirement of a doctor’s prescription and held online consultations to prescribe drugs, something that is illegal in the US. Additionally, shipment of these drugs to the US violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act. Even more, although Canada has its own regulatory prescription drug rules, Canadian pharmacies who shipped these drugs to the US were not subject to the Canadian regulatory authority.
The Justice Department says Google knew about this issue since 2003. Although they took steps to prevent the Canadian pharmacies from placing ads, these pharmacies were still able to advertise to US consumers.
“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 Deputy Attorney General Cole in a statement. “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.”
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In 2010, Google changed its pharmacy policy of the U.S. and Canada, specifically stating that Google AdWords would only accept advertisements from VIPPS and CIPA certified pharmacies.
“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” Google said in an e-mailed statement. “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.”