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, the U.S. Department of Justice said today.
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.
The shipment of prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the United States to customers in the United States typically violates U.S. laws governing they shipment of controlled substances, the Department of Justice says. "Google was aware as early as 2003, that generally, it was illegal for pharmacies to ship controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the United States from Canada," the agency says. The importation of prescription drugs to consumers in the United States is almost always unlawful because the FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of foreign prescription drugs that are not FDA-approved, the agency says.
"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. "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."
Under the terms of an agreement signed by Google and the government, Google acknowledges that it improperly assisted Canadian online pharmacy advertisers to run advertisements that targeted the United States through AdWords, and the company accepts responsibility for this conduct. 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, the DoJ says. While a fugitive, he began to advertise the unlawful sale of drugs through Google’s AdWords program. After being apprehended in Mexico and returned to the United States by the U.S. Secret Service, he began cooperating with law enforcement and provided information about his use of the 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, the agency says.
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