Google Lawsuit Targets Alleged Illegal Rx Drug Advertisements

On Tuesday, Google filed a federal lawsuit to prevent fraudulent pharmaceutical groups from advertising on its search engine and websites, the Wall Street Journal reports (Jarzemsky, Wall Street Journal, 9/23).

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (Perez, ComputerWorld, 9/22).

Google's Argument

Google's complaint alleges that one person and 50 unnamed defendants used AdWords to promote unverified pharmacy and prescription-drug operations.

AdWords is Google's self-service program that allows users to post their advertisements next to relevant search results.

According to Google, the defendants "violated policies and circumvented technological measures" by posting ads without being verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (Wall Street Journal, 9/23).

In addition, Google maintains that the defendants intentionally misspelled pharmaceutical names to circumvent Google's efforts to review ads (Claburn, InformationWeek, 9/22). These actions broke a contract with Google, the company says.

Internet companies increasingly are making efforts to prevent online advertising fraud, which could steer users away from doing business with legitimate companies, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 9/23).

In a Google Blog post, Google lawyer Michael Zwibelman wrote that Google's action should serve as a deterrent against other illegal marketing actions online (ComputerWorld, 9/22).

Growth in Rogue Pharmacies

For Google, more advertisers selling online pharmaceuticals can drive growth, but Zwibelman maintained that so-called rogue pharmacies can negatively affect the company, saying they are "bad for our users, for legitimate online pharmacies and for the entire e-commerce industry -- so we are going to keep investing time and money to stop these kinds of harmful practices" (Wall Street Journal, 9/23).

He added that the number of rogue prescription drug vendors has increased and that their tactics have become more sophisticated (ComputerWorld, 9/22).

Also on Tuesday, eNom, a provider of Web addresses, sought to address fraudulent pharmaceutical ads by agreeing to work with LegitScript, an Internet pharmacy verification service (Wall Street Journal, 9/23).

Rob McClenahan
Google’s advocacy on this position is a welcomed effort to combat fraudulent advertising activity. Ideally, an audit system completed in several business sectors might reveal deceptive advertising practices by some companies. It will be intriguing to watch the implementation of mandates by federal regulatory agencies to control this issue.

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