Google has been fined $500m by the US Department of Justice after allowing Canadian online pharmacies to use its AdWords advertising platform to facilitate the unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the US.
The fine is one of the largest to be handed out in the US, and takes into account the gross revenue received by Google for allowing the pharmacies to advertise, along with gross revenues made by the pharmacies from sales to US consumers.
The shipments were in contravention of the US Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act.
A joint investigation by the US Attorney's Office in Rhode Island and the Food and Drug Administration was triggered after a fugitive arrested in Mexico provided information to the US Secret Service about how he had used Google AdWords to sell unlawful drugs.
The investigation found that Google knew that online Canadian pharmacies were advertising prescription drugs to US citizens through AdWords as early as 2003.
The Department of Justice noted that Google took steps to block non-US organisations from targeting consumers in the US, with the exception of Canadian pharmacies.
"It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue online pharmacies from reaching US consumers by compelling Google to change its behaviour," said Peter Neronha, US attorney for the district of Rhode Island, in a statement.
"[We are] holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500m forfeiture, the kind of forfeiture that will not only get Google's attention, but the attention of all those who contribute to America's pill problem."
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