Google has agreed to pay $500 million to settle DOJ charges. In the settlement, Google acknowledged that it helped illegal online pharmacies target ads through its AdWords platform. It was one of the largest forfeitures ever paid in the U.S. (see “Google Settles with DOJ – Admits Aiding Illegal Online Drug Sales“).
This will help the pharmaceutical industry and FDA in their long-standing battle against US citizens buying drugs online from Canadian pharmacies.
It will also pave the way for the FDA to release long-awaited guidelines for the use of Google Adwords and other “space-limited” online applications (eg, Twitter) by the pharmaceutical industry for branded drug promotions.
I pointed out previously (see here) that as part of the DOJ criminal investigation, undercover agents for the Food and Drug Administration contacted Google posing as representatives from rogue Internet pharmacies.
I suggested that because of FDA’s involvement in this case, the agency delayed issuing guidance relating to the proper use of Google Adwords for branded Rx advertising. FDA did this — IMHO — to force Google to the bargaining table and to ultimate accept the draconian terms mentioned above. In other words, FDA was holding Google’s pharma Adword business “hostage” until a settlement was reached.
Recall that the brouhaha with Adwords as far as pharma marketers were concerned all started with FDA issuing those 14 warning letters in April 2009. These letters were all about Google’s Adwords. I had also pointed out long ago that Google was aiding and abetting illegal pharma Adwords by suggesting exactly the format that the FDA later found violative (see “That Girl from Google“).
Now that Google settled, FDA should be willing to give back to the search engine giant its pharma Adword business, which was substantial prior to the 14 letters.
P.S. Back in April 2009, shortly after the FDA sent out the 14 letters, I asked this question: “WHY DID IT TAKE THE FDA THIS LONG TO GO AFTER VIOLATIVE ADWORDS WHEN I WARNED THEM ABOUT THIS AS FAR BACK AS 2006?” (see here).
At that time, I thought it had something to do with the new administration in Washington, DC. But I learn now from the DOJ press release (here) that “In 2009, after Google became aware of the investigation by the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FDA/OCI Rhode Island Task Force of its advertising practices in the online pharmacy area, and as a result of that investigation, Google took a number of steps to prevent the unlawful sale of prescription drugs by online pharmacies to U.S. consumers.”
Maybe the release of the 14 letters was the incentive Google needed to “take a number of steps.”