(CN) – Google agreed to forfeit $500 million earned by letting Canadian pharmacies target U.S. consumers with advertisements for prescription drugs. An investigation by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island found that Canadian pharmacies were using Google AdWords to advertise prescription drugs to U.S. consumers.
AdWords is a Google program that places targeted advertisements alongside results to online queries.
Though Google tried to block foreign pharmacies from advertising through AdWords, the Justice Department says the web giant allowed Canadian pharmacies to target American consumers.
Google also offered customer support to Canadian pharmacy advertisers to help them maximize the effectiveness of their ads, the Justice Department said.
Importing prescription drugs to American consumers that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration is “almost always” illegal, the Justice Department said.
“This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful, importation of prescription drugs by Canadian online pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” Rhode Island District Attorney Peter Neronha said in a statement. “It is about taking a significant step forward in limiting the ability of rogue online pharmacies from reaching U.S. consumers, by compelling Google to change its behavior.”
When Google became aware of the Rhode Island district attorney’s investigation, it took steps to try to prevent pharmacies from illegally advertising to U.S. consumers. The search giant now requires professional certification to advertise and has hired a team to crack down on pharmacy advertisements that exploit flaws in Google’s screening systems.
In addition to paying $500 million, Google agreed to Justice Department’s requirements to report similar issues in the future.