Miss. AG Seeks Details on Google’s Steps To Remove Illegal Drug Ads

July 30, 2014 in News

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) said he plans to issue a civil investigative demand against Google to see how the company screens videos and advertisements for illegal online prescription drug advertisements, Bloomberg reports (Strohm/McLaughlin, Bloomberg, 6/24).

Background

Last year, Hood threatened Google with legal action, stating that the company was not doing enough to prevent the sale of drugs without prescriptions and that it was profiting by selling online ads next to videos on YouTube, which Google owns.

Hood said he believed the site’s ad content violates Google’s 2011 settlement with the Department of Justice.

In 2011, the Department of Justice announced that Google agreed to pay $500 million to settle allegations that it allowed online Canadian pharmacies to illegally display Web advertisements in the U.S.

Companies are liable for ads on their website that violate federal law.

Google previously has made an effort to prevent displays of ads from “rogue pharmacies,” which offer counterfeit medications or do not require valid prescriptions.

In September 2010, Google filed a federal lawsuit to prevent fraudulent pharmaceutical groups from advertising on its search engine and websites (iHealthBeat, 6/13/13).

Earlier this year, several state attorneys general renewed calls for Google to reduce the number of illegal online drug sales.

Specifically, Hood and other attorneys general said Google should “delist” sites that promote illegal activities or products in much the same way the company has removed links to child pornography.

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 (iHealthBeat, 4/16).

However, Google and other major companies have partnered with the federal government to address the problem of illegal online pharmacies (iHealthBeat, 3/6).

Hood’s Comments

Hood said that Google has failed to satisfy the investigation by the attorneys general into whether it properly screens illegal prescription drug ads, adding that the company is not doing enough to prevent illegal drug advertisements from turning up in its search results.

Hood noted that the civil investigative demand, which is similar to a subpoena, will request “documents and emails about how they screen or don’t screen videos and ads” and “how they place ads beside videos.” He added that he thinks other attorneys general will join him in issuing the demand.

Google’s Response

In response, Google spokesperson Niki Christoff said the company takes the safety of its users “very seriously.” He added, “[W]e’ve explained to Attorney General Hood how we enforce policies to combat rogue online pharmacies and counterfeit drugs.”

According to Bloomberg, the company removed more than 350 million advertisements in 2013, compared with 220 million in 2012 (Bloomberg, 7/24).

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