Google’s Pill Problem: “Google Drugs” Pays Record $500 million fine to avoid jail…for now

“Well, well, well you’re feeling fine…”

Dr. Robert by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

In more amazing hubris from Google, a company spokesperson announced that despite being tagged with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, civil fines in history for advertising the illegal sale of drugs online, the company will not be discussing the matter further given the extensive coverage of Google’s settlement with the Department of Justice to avoid jail time.  I’m sure the Congress will be so pleased to be told by a defendant that they are not going to speak about the matter when Eric Schmidt finally shows up on September 21 to testify before Congress on Google’s wrongdoings.

What am I talking about you say?  Well, don’t you know?  Given the extensive coverage the case has received, why would you need to ask?

Google’s “Pill Problem”

The Department of Justice press release states:

““This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian on-line pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” said U.S. Attorney Neronha. “It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue on-line pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior.   It is about  holding Google responsible for its conduct by imposing a $500 million 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.””

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Search giant Google Inc. has agreed to pay $500 million to settle a Justice Department investigation into allegations that it improperly accepted ads from online Canadian pharmacies that import prescription drugs into the United States.  [Read a copy of the plea agreement.]

Google agreed to forfeit $500 million it earned in ad revenue from the Canadian pharmacies, one of the largest ever forfeitures in the United States, the Justice Department announced in a statement.

The DOJ said that it is almost always illegal to import prescription drugs into the U.S., because the FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of the foreign drugs.

Google was aware as early as 2003, the DOJ said in the statement, that generally it was illegal for pharmacies to ship controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the U.S. ‘The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable companies who in their bid for profits violate federal law and put at risk the health and safety of American consumers,’Deputy Attorney General James Cole said.”

Greed is Google

To paraphrase Gordon Gekko:  “Greed is Google.”  The upshot of this whole thing is that Google decided that they would rather risk the harm to consumers–all consumers, including kids–and make a fast buck from advertisements for counterfeit drugs and illegally prescribed drugs.  The enormity of their violation and the vileness of the behavior is rather hard to comprehend.  What does it cost to keep Eric Schmidt out of jail?  $500 million of the shareholders money.

Is he worth it?  Does anyone know if “users” died while benefiting from Google’s “pill problem”?

Missing from the Settlement: Wrongful Death

Here’s the problem in a nutshell (from the Washington Post in 2003): “In July 2001, regulators at the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy noticed something unusual among the reams of data that flow into the busy agency each day. Buried  along with the other numbers was a report from a small Internet pharmacy that had filled 1,105 prescriptions for painkillers and other dangerous drugs that month.

The same tiny pharmacy had dispensed just 17 prescriptions in the prior six months.

Virtually overnight, had become one of the largest distributors of controlled substances in Nevada. Over the next year, the online pharmacy shipped nearly 5 million doses of highly addictive drugs to customers scattered across the country. By the time regulators shut the Las Vegas firm in January, accounted for 10 percent of all hydrocodone sold in Nevada, regulators said.”

This is exactly the kind of human misery that Google profited from and for which it is being punished.

Google Employees Caught in Sting Operation Creating Ad Campaign for Illegal Drugs

According to the Associated Press, “A separate U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation into drugs that claimed to be manufactured in Canada found that 85 percent of the drugs examined came from 27 different countries, including some that were found to be counterfeit, said Kathleen Martin-Weis, acting director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

Investigators noted that Google did not allow online pharmacies from any other country aside from Canada to advertise to American consumers.  [A sophisticated level of filtering by ad type, country of origin and country of destination–but they can’t stop infringments.]

The probe did not touch the overseas online pharmacies, Neronha said, because American officials did not have the authority to bring charges. .

Investigators snared Google’s ad system by creating seven undercover websites offering prescription drugs to be sold without a prescription or the completion of an online medical questionnaire, Martin-Weis said. An undercover investigator informed Google employees creating the advertising for the products that they were manufactured overseas and did not require that customers have a valid prescription, she said.

In each instance, despite this knowledge, Google employees created a full advertising campaign for each of the undercover websites,” Martin-Weis said.”

This will sound familiar to anyone who remembers how Google employees extended credit to pirate websites.

Human Misery is an Entree at the Googleplex

It will also sound familiar to Senator Diane Feinstein who authored the Ryan Haight Bill which became the Internet Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act–that would be Senator Diane Feinstein of the Senate Judiciary Committee that unanimously passed both COICA and the Protect IP Act.

Google clearly profited from exactly the kind of behavior that the Ryan Haight Bill was designed to prevent.  But the unanswered question is what role Google played in the addiction and death of other kids like Ryan Haight?  The company says they are shutting up about their role in promoting these tragedies–for good reason.

The wrongful death suits or state law manslaughter charges against Google and its employees may well be next.

It’s amazing what you can find out with a wire tap.

“Do no evil” vs. “Don’t be evil”

So look back at Google’s actions from the last year and they’re mostly in  line with this credo… to make [Google] better for users.[Helping addicts find cheap dope and get around controlled substances laws passed by the people to protect addicts]

Sometimes the line gets blurry, particularly with acquisitions — buying  travel information provider ITA looked a lot like Google was trying to own a  supplier of critical data to a competitor, Microsoft’s Bing [or promoting the sale of illegal drugs]. (Did Google  really need to OWN it to provide better travel search results?)

But if avoiding evil means pleasing customers, that’s just smart  business.

And that’s why Google  is winning.”

Well…if “users” means drugs users and if “winning” for the stockholders means the management team buying their way out of prison for $500 million.  And I think that the American Gangster drug dealer Frank Lucas would heartily agree–his Blue Magic heroin gave customers twice the high for half the price.  The means justify the ends.

By Google’s standards, neither Eric Schmidt nor Frank Lucas did evil in selling drugs because “users” were better off.  Both profited from human misery.  Which leaves the same question that has been asked every time Google gets caught doing increasingly vile acts:

Where is the board?


In a curious twist of fate, another major Creative Commons contributor also paid a whopping $300 million fine to the Department of Justice.  Glad to see that the friends of Lessig are doing their part to retire the National Debt.

How innovative.

See also Don Henley on the Protect IP Act