Google has been fined $500 million by the US government for allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise unlicensed drugs to American patients.
The charges outlined that the company sold millions of dollars’ worth of Google AdWords to Canadian pharmacies importing drugs from other parts of the world not licensed for use in the US, and could be dangerous.
US Attorney Neronha said the fine was “about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue online pharmacies from reaching US consumers”.
The $500 million penalty, said to be one of the largest such fines in American history, was reached by combining Google’s profits made from the AdWords used by the pharmacies, plus gross revenue made in these sales to US consumers.
The fine allows Google to avoid criminal prosecution, but the settlement also details that steps must be taken by Google to avoid such an event in the future.
“It is about holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500 million forfeiture, the kind of forfeiture that will not only get Google’s attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America’s pill problem,” Attorney Neronha added.
The US Department of Justice stated that while Canada has its own laws for prescription drugs, these drugs being imported into the US are not always subject to Canadian regulatory authority and could come from anywhere.
The Department of Justice said that Google was aware “as early as 2003” that it was illegal for pharmacies to ship unlicensed prescription drugs into the US from Canada, but had failed to take action.
The Department also stated that from 2003 to 2009, Google provided customer support to some of the advertisers, assisting them in optimising their advertisements.
But in a statement, Google claimed to have previously banned the advertising: “It’s obvious with hindsight that we should not have allowed these ads on Google in the first place”.
Acting Director Martin-Weis of the FDA, who was involved in securing the fine, said: “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”.