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Google Sues Rogue Pill Peddlers

Rogue advertisers are trying to get around Google's rules to sell prescription drugs online.

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Google on Tuesday filed a civil lawsuit in a court in San Jose, Calif., against rogue advertisers who market prescription pharmaceuticals online in violation of the company's policies.

The company alleges that Omar Jackman, of Brooklyn, New York, an individual identified only as "Simon" in Manhattan, New York, and an indeterminate number of individuals to be identified later, used deliberate misspellings of pharmaceutical names to bypass Google's efforts to flag and review ads promoting online pharmacies and prescription drugs through its AdWords advertising program.

"In recent years, the number of advertisers who purport to sell prescription drugs online has risen exponentially," Google states in its complaint. Some of these advertisers flout Google's policies and while Google continues to make efforts to police its ad programs, "[t]hese rogue advertisers continue to find ways around the technological measures Google has put in place to stop them..."

Google detected the defendants' ads through one of its "sweeps," a process designed to review ads that have been approved by Google's automated tools. A Google spokesperson wasn't immediately available to provide further details about how this process works.

Google litigation counsel Michael Zwibelman said in a blog post that Google is particularly concerned about online pharmaceuticals because they can be dangerous without a prescription.

"Litigation of this kind should act as a serious deterrent to anyone thinking about circumventing our policies to advertise illegally on Google," wrote Zwibelman. "...Rogue pharmacies 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."

Refusing to allow shady online pharmaceutical sales means foregoing quite a few ad dollars. A survey conducted by brand protection company MarkMonitor in 2009 found that online pharmacies have been doing well, with $11 billion in sales in 2009, up from an estimated $4 billion in 2007. Yet of the 2,930 online pharmacies identified by the company, only four were certified in the VIPPS program by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a requirement for pharmacy advertising on Google.

Pharmacies not certified by VIPPS often offer prescription drugs for as much as 90% less than certified pharmacies. "These deep discounts indicate that the products are of suspicious quality," MarkMonitor says.

Either that, or certified pharmaceuticals are overpriced, but that's another story.

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