Google to sue ‘rogue pharmacies’

Google is taking legal action in an attempt to stem the tide of rogue pharmacies advertising on its sites.

The search engine filed a suit in a US federal court on Tuesday against advertisers which the search company believes have broken its rules, in an open-ended action which will expand as it catches more offenders.

“Litigation of this kind should act as a serious deterrent to anyone thinking about circumventing our policies to advertise illegally on Google,” said Michael Zwibelman, litigation counsel at Google, in a company blog post on Tuesday. “Rogue pharmacies are bad for our users, for legitimate online pharmacies and for the entire e-commerce industry – so we are going to keep investing time and money to stop these kinds of harmful practices.”

Google’s action comes soon after eNom, the world’s second-largest vendor of web addresses, bowed to government and regulatory pressure to check pharmacies’ operating licences before selling them domain names.

The technology industry’s change of tactics in the fight against spam from technological to legal shows the continuing ability of nimble spammers to circumvent the many counter measures aimed at them in recent years. Google, which last year sued scam advertisers that promised “easy cash with Google”, described the problem as an “ongoing, escalating cat-and-mouse game”.

“In recent years, we have noticed a marked increase in the number of rogue pharmacies, as well as an increasing sophistication in their methods,” Mr Zwibelman said. “This has meant that despite our best efforts . . . a small percentage of pharma ads from these rogue companies are still appearing on Google.”

Google’s AdWords system on its website is self-service – meaning any advertiser can bid in an open auction to show its links alongside selected search keywords. That open access has widened the field of potential advertisers, allowing Google to tap the “long tail” of smaller advertisers that are unable or unwilling to buy ads in traditional mass media.

These ads are largely placed alongside the most relevant search results by some of Google’s algorithms, but the company’s employees can manually intervene to remove links in its paid or “natural” search results that lead to scams, child pornography or viruses.

Google’s efforts have not stopped criminals from trying to lure people to their sites by creating web pages filled with popular keywords or links.

Security experts have asked Google to do more to intervene in such cases, given its unique position of dominance in the search engine market.

● Separately, the Czech Republic on Wednesday said it had banned Google from extending its use of the Street View mapping service due to privacy concerns, writes Mary Watkins in London. The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection said in a statement on its website that Google was using technology “that disproportionately invaded citizens’ privacy”, by setting up cameras that take shots that go beyond the extent of ordinary sight from a street. However, the Office for Personal Data Protection said it was open to further talks with Google.

It added that as a company based out of the European Union, Google had also failed to provide a representative to deal with personal data.

Authorities in countries including the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Spain have been examining Google since the company admitted that it had inadvertently picked up data from unsecured wireless networks in the course of photographing and gathering information for Street View.

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