Google agreed to forfeit $500 million for helping online Canadian pharmacies to reach American consumers by letting the drug companies place advertisements through its AdWords programs, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The $500 million settlement with DOJ is one of the largest forfeiture penalties ever in the United States, the department said. Google acknowledged as part of the deal that it “improperly assisted Canadian online pharmacy advertisers to run advertisements that targeted the United States through AdWords.”
DOJ added that Google “was aware as early as 2003, that generally, it was illegal for pharmacies to ship controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the United States from Canada.”
The pact will require Google to take “a number of compliance and reporting measures … in order to [ensure] that the conduct described in the agreement does not occur in the future.”
It is unlawful, in the majority of cases, to import prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the U.S. because it’s likely to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and or the Controlled Substances Act.
“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 in a statement. “This settlement ensures that Google will reform its improper advertising practices with regard to these pharmacies while paying one of the largest financial forfeiture penalties in history.”
Google said it has already dealt with the problem.
“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” a company spokesperson said in a response to the news. “However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place. Given the extensive coverage this settlement has already received, we won’t be commenting further.”
It is important to understand that this $500 million penalty will go directly to the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF), where the DOJ will be able to allocate and spend it without any Congressional appropriation and only the barest of oversight. In other words, whether or not this penalty is appropriate (and I would argue separately that it is not) the DOJ slush fund just received $500 million that will be spent as DOJ officials please. Past experience tells us that this money will be spent to further the aims of the War on Drugs and the surveillance state without any democratic control or governance.
We argue that all public funds should only be appropriated by legislative authority, and not provided directly to law enforcement slush funds.