Google Sues Prescription Drug Advertisers
Never underestimate the power of Google. The Internet giant recently filed suit against some of its most profitable AdWords customers. The suit, filed in US District Court in Northern California, names one defendant and promises to name up to fifty more once the suit progresses. Google alleges that the defendants run illegal online pharmacies and use malware to advertise counterfeit drugs to users of the Google search engine.
Google alleges that the defendants are in violation of the Google AdWords terms of service because they advertise drugs and pharmacies that haven’t first been approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Pursuant to the AdWords user policies, any pharmacy advertising on the service must be pre-approved by the NABP; Google will not promote online pharmacies that sell prescription drugs unlawfully. In the suit, Google claims that the defendants were able to circumvent the AdWords quality control procedures by misspelling the names of prescription drugs.
Online prescription pharmacies have long been a problem for US law enforcement. Since many of these pharmacies are not located in the US and, thus, are not subject to US drug laws, they will sell dangerous and addictive prescription drugs to anyone willing to pay the obscenely inflated prices and take their chances with getting the incoming packages through US Customs – no prescription necessary. Given the shear number of these transactions and deliveries that take place on a daily basis, it is virtually impossible for all of these rouge shipments to be intercepted and confiscated.
So, why do people order drugs online? There are a few reasons, actually. The first, and most obvious, reason is that some people are addicted to prescription drugs (especially narcotics and sleep aids) and use the online pharmaceutical marketplace as a substitute for a street dealer.
However, other people turn to online pharmacies for more legitimate purposes. In a perfect world, people who need prescription drugs can go to a doctor for a prescription and get it filled at an area pharmacy. However, not everyone can afford to see a doctor. Instead, some patients may self-diagnosis using information found on the Internet and turn to online pharmacies in order to buy the recommended remedies. Others may be concerned about medical privacy issues and use online pharmacies as a way to protect themselves against their medical history being disclosed to employers, insurance companies, or family members.
No matter what the reason for making an online pharmaceutical purchase, the practice is incredibly dangerous. Not only do legitimate patients run the risk of misdiagnosing themselves and taking unnecessary medicinal substances, but few are as well versed in the fine art of drug side-effects and interactions as local pharmacists and, thus, run the risk of harming or even killing themselves. Further, many online pharmacies abroad will fill a prescription with an expired drug, the wrong drug, or a sugar pill. The consequences of obtaining one of these bad shipments range from failing to receive adequate treatment to overdosing on a drug you didn’t even know you were taking.
Since selling prescription drugs online in the United States is unlawful, Google has been vigilant in enforcing its online pharmaceutical advertising ban. However, because online prescription drug sales are also a huge moneymaker for online marketers, Google is constantly struggling to stay one step ahead of them to prevent unlawful products and services from being marketed under AdWords. Once Google institutes a new policy, the marketers figure out a way around them. Over the past months, Google has experienced an alarming increase in the number of moneymakers hoping to take advantage of prescription drug seekers. The misspelling of drug names is just one of the ways online marketers have thwarted the AdWords guideline system. Google is fed up and wants its day in court.
In a related move, the domain register eNom recently teamed up with an Internet pharmacy verification company in order to ensure that unlawful online pharmacies are not operated under domain names handled by eNom. Further, Oracle has developed a system that will help eliminate counterfeit drugs from the market.
Legal commentators surmise that, by filing a lawsuit against illegal pharmaceutical marketers, Google is hoping to end run any interference in the Adwords service by federal regulators. Further, a positive outcome in civil court may pave the way for government prosecutors to file criminal charges against the defendants.