As part of its response to a potential subpoena by the Mississippi attorney general and accusations from The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) earlier this month that Google facilitates the sale of drugs without a prescription, among other illegal transactions, Google legal director, Adam Barea, says the company has blocked or removed from its systems more than 3 million ads by suspected “rogue pharmacies” in the last two years.
The current complaints from the State Attorneys General focus primarily on Google allowing illegal sites to show in the organic search results and related queries appearing in the auto complete feature. Bad ads have not been cited as a factor in their objections. This is an area where the search giant has made obvious strides since Google’s $500 million settlement in a DOJ investigation over charges that the company allowed Canadian pharmacies advertise illegal pharmaceutical sales without prescriptions in 2011.
In tests today, either no ads showed for queries like “oxycodone no prescription”, “no prescription needed”, “online pharmacy india”, or ads from brand name pharmacies like Walgreens, Drugstore.com or from the drug makers themselves appeared for queries like “online pharmacy no prescription”.
Google’s Barea says that as of 2010, Google permits only U.S.-based online pharmacies accredited under the National Association Boards of Pharmacy “VIPPS” program to run pharma ads in AdWords and that there are less than 40 VIPPS certified pharmacies operating in the U.S.
Interestingly, Google contracts with LegitScript, an independent company, to sweep for bad pharmaceutical ads. According to LegitScript, the number of illegal drug and pharmacy ads on major search engines has declined by 99.9% percent since 2010.