Going straight: Google pays $500m drug advert settlement
GOOGLE will pay $500m (€347m) to the US government to settle allegations that advertising for online Canadian pharmacies on its website allowed illegal imports of prescription drugs.
The California-based internet giant will pay the settlement amid allegations it was aware as early as 2003 that the shipment of prescription medicines to the US from outside the country is illegal, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
The settlement halts a legal investigation that could have seen the company prosecuted by the US attorney in Rhode Island, the Justice Department, and the Food and Drug Administration.
"We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the US by Canadian pharmacies some time ago," Google said. "However, it's obvious with hindsight that we shouldn't have allowed these ads on Google in the first place."
Google announced in February 2010 that it would only accept US and Canadian ads from pharmacies certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program, known as VIPPS, and the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.
In December 2010, Google joined Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies in helping establish a non-profit organisation to fight illegal internet pharmacies. Counterfeit drug sales account for about $75bn in global sales, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
"The result of this investigation has been a fundamental transformation of internet pharmacy advertising practices, significantly limiting promotion to US consumers by rogue online pharmacies," said Kathleen Martin-Weis, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations.
The issue has been complicated by varying international laws. It is illegal to import unlicensed drugs into the US, but not illegal for Canadian firms to sell them. Companies that manufacture the drugs may not be violating the laws of the places where they are based.
Online drug sales have been one of the largest sources of income for cybercrime gangs. A large percentage of unwanted email touts such wares, and viruses steer infected PCs to such websites.