Search giant Google Inc. has agreed to pay $500 million to settle a U.S. Justice Department investigation into allegations that it improperly accepted ads from online Canadian pharmacies. The importation of prescription drugs to the United States is almost always illegal because federal regulators cannot ensure the safety of those drugs for US citizens.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, D.O.J. officials said that the forfeiture is one of the largest in U.S. history; the amount partly represents the revenues that Google received as a result of Canadian pharmacies advertising on AdWords, a Google advertising service.
“This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian on-line pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” said Peter Neronha, U.S. District attorney for Rhode Island, “It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior.
“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,” deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a statement. “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.
“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” an e-mailed statement from Google said Wednesday. “However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place. Given the extensive coverage this settlement has already received, we won’t be commenting further.” Justice officials say that Google will not face criminal prosecution.