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.  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.

              

An investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Rhode Island and the FDA/OCI Rhode Island Task Force revealed that as early as 2003, Google was on notice that online Canadian pharmacies were advertising prescription drugs to Google users in the United States through Google's AdWords advertising program.  Although Google took steps to block pharmacies in countries other than Canada from advertising in the U.S. through AdWords, they continued to allow Canadian pharmacy advertisers to target consumers in the United States.  Google was aware that U.S. consumers were making online purchases of prescription drugs from these Canadian online pharmacies, and that many of the pharmacies distributed prescription drugs, including controlled prescription drugs, based on an online consultation rather than a valid prescription from a treating medical practitioner.  Google was also on notice that many pharmacies accepting an online consultation rather than a prescription charged a premium for doing so because individuals seeking to obtain prescription drugs without a valid prescription were willing to pay higher prices for the drugs.

 

Further, from 2003 through 2009, Google provided customer support to some of these Canadian online pharmacy advertisers to assist them in placing and optimizing their AdWords advertisements, and in improving the effectiveness of their websites.  

  

In addition to requiring Google to forfeit $500 million, the agreement also sets forth a number of compliance and reporting measures, which must be taken by Google in order to insure that the conduct described in the agreement does not occur in the future.

 

The investigation of Google had its origins in a separate, multimillion-dollar financial fraud investigation unrelated to Google, the main target of which fled to Mexico.  While a fugitive, he began to advertise the unlawful sale of drugs through Google's AdWords program.  During the ensuing investigation of Google, the government established a number of undercover websites for the purpose of advertising the unlawful sale of controlled and non-controlled substances through Google's AdWords program.

 

SOURCE: DOJ