Attorneys General Urge Google To Crack Down on Illegal Rx Drug Sites

April 17, 2014 in News

Several state attorneys general have renewed calls for Google to reduce the number of illegal online drug sales, the Washington Post reports (Gold/Hamburger, Washington Post, 4/15).

Background

Google and other major companies have partnered with the federal government to address the problem of illegal online pharmacies. Specifically, the companies are working in conjunction with the government to promote secure online pharmacies through consumer education, blocking their appearance in Internet searches and stricter punishments (iHealthBeat, 3/6).

In addition, Google said tougher advertising standards that it implemented in 2010 have reduced the number of online ads placed by unlicensed pharmacies by 99.9%. The company also noted that in 2013 it disabled 4.6 million pharmaceutical or health supplement ads that failed to meet the new standards.

Meeting Between Google, AGs

In February, Google met with 21 attorneys general in Washington, D.C., to discuss their concerns. The meeting came after 24 attorneys general in a letter to the company last year said that Google was not doing enough to address the issue of illegal online drug sales.

During the meeting, Google said it was hiring an additional 120 workers to identify inappropriate ads and videos. Google said it also planned to eliminate 1,200 predicted search phrases that potentially could lead people to illegal or harmful websites.

The company also said it planned this year to increase policy enforcement spending by 10%, up to $114.5 million.

Renewed Calls for ‘Delisting’ Illegal Online Pharmacies

Despite the progress made at the meeting earlier this year, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) and other attorneys general say that Google still is not doing enough to address the issue, the Post reports.

Specifically, Hood and other officials said Google should “delist” sites that promote illegal activities or products in much the same way the company has removed links to child pornography. Hood also has threatened legal action against the company if it does not take further steps to remove illegal online pharmacies.

In response, Google said that taking such action would essentially put the company in the role of censoring speech and could embolden other countries to similarly remove websites that violate local laws.

Hawaii Attorney General David Louie (D) acknowledged that Google does not “want to become the content censor,” but he argued that he and other attorneys general are not “talking about nuanced stuff.” He added, “We’re urging that kind of approach for things that are low-hanging fruit — counterfeit items, illegal pharmacies — that are very blatant and brazen” (Washington Post, 4/15).

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