Google has bowed to pressure initiated by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and removed ads and search results for numerous websites selling pharmaceuticals without prescriptions.
The internet giant was issued a litigation hold letter that alerted the company to preserve evidence of anything it takes down, threatening possible legal action. This isn't the first time that Google has been scrutinized by the federal government for the content that lands on its search pages, including ads for illegal drugs and pharmaceuticals, as well as counterfeit goods.
Hood, co-chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General's intellectual property committee has targeted the company for not being proactive in its monitoring of ads and search results, although the company has previously been fined for a similar offense. "This behavior means that Google is putting consumers at risk and facilitating wrongdoing, all while profiting handsomely from illegal behavior," Hood said.
In 2011, Google paid $500 million to settle a prescription drug case with the US Justice Department after a federal task force successfully bought ads for selling steroids and human growth hormones on their US search page. In the most recent complaint, Hood also noted Google searches that resulted in "counterfeit goods of every description, and infringing copies of movies, music, software and games."
Hood pointed out that Google's strict policies concerning child pornography and pro-Nazi links in Germany—and their swift action to police and remove such things—proves that "content removal can be done, but it appears Google is unwilling to remove content related to the purchase of prescription drugs without a prescription or the downloading of pirated movies and songs," Hood said, according to the Mississippi Business Journal.
Another Google entity, YouTube, is also under fire for showing video ads selling illegal drugs. Advocacy group Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) has accused Google of failing to police YouTube properly. According to USA Today, the "group's investigation of YouTube's content found Google has allowed its video-streaming service to become a major host for "how-to" videos on various illicit and even dangerous activities."
Last week, Google responded, saying, "In the last two years, we've removed more than 3 million ads for illegal pharmacies, and we routinely remove videos that are flagged for violating YouTube's Guidelines regarding dangerous or illegal content."
After last week's media coverage, many of the sites cited by Hood in the investigation have been removed, prompting DCA executive director Tom Galvin to say, "Google needs to stop treating this as a PR problem... and start treating this as an Internet safety issue."
Hood has invited Google CEO Larry Page to a June 17 national meeting of the attorneys general in Boston to address their concerns.