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The Food and Drug Administration’s investigation into drug advertisements accepted by Google began in 2009. Concluding now, Google will pay $500 million in settlements.
According to a Department of Justice statement, Google allowed online Canadian pharmacies to place ads through the AdWords program, targeting a U.S. market, which led to illegal importation of controlled and non-controlled substances.
Beyond allowing the ad sales, the DOJ said in a statement that Google offered customer support to some of the Canadian pharmacies, during the years between 2003 and 2009. Google offered the pharmacies advice in optimizing their AdWords ads and improving their websites.
Though it has origins in non-related issues, the FDA launched the investigation in order to determine whether Google had accepted illegal online ads for Canadian prescription drugs. Once this investigation began, Google began making an effort to end these “unlawful sales,” according to the Department of Justice.
The DOJ says shipping prescriptions across the border into the United States is “generally illegal.” These prescriptions have not been approved for the FDA and therefore may not comply with their safety regulations. Furthermore, the DOJ has found that Google was aware of the illegality of international prescriptions as early as 2003. Because of this, the DOJ concludes that Google knowingly accepted illegal ads.
In May, 2011, Google set aside $500 million for payment in resolution of this investigation. “We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” Google said in an email statement. “However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place.”
Due to the agreement, Google, the leading Internet search engine, will not face criminal prosecution for the FDA accusations. The $500 million payment is one of the largest forfeitures in the United States and represents the amount of gross revenue received from the illegal ads, according to a statement from the DOJ.