Google Subpoenaed Supporting Scam Pharmacies And Piracy
June 19, 2013

Google Subpoenaed For ‘Aiding And Abetting’ Scam Pharmacies And Digital Piracy

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The Internet can be a nasty place, and when one company is responsible for directing a large majority of this traffic, it will almost certainly be the target of many investigations and public notices.

On Tuesday Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced he would hold Google partially responsible for directly or indirectly guiding users to online pharmacy scams and pirated digital content. AG Hood is joined by Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II of Virginia and Attorney General David Louie of Hawaii in calling for Google to stop directing users to these sites and have issued subpoenas of their records as a part of a new investigation into their business practices.

“Google is aiding and abetting criminal activity and putting consumers at risk. This is of grave concern to the chief law enforcement officers of this nation," said AG Hood in a statement.

At the center of these new allegations are Google's auto complete feature for searches and their advertising revenue practices, the latter of which has already landed the search giant in hot water with the FTC, albeit for different reasons. The attorneys general claim Google's auto complete feature navigates users, even unsuspecting ones, to pages which sell illegitimate prescription drugs or peddle pirated content. What´s more, they believe these sites may be advertising with Google, earning them prominent positions in the search results, leading Hood to make his “aiding and abetting" claims.

Hood claims he has questioned Google about this behavior before but received no response. He then invited the company to a meeting of attorneys general held in Boston to discuss the ease with which anyone can access prescription drugs and pirated content, a meeting which Google executives failed to attend.

“We in good faith invited Larry Page, Chief Executive Officer of Google, to have an open, honest and transparent conversation about these important issues that are putting consumers at risk and facilitating wrongdoing, all while profiting handsomely from this dangerous behavior," said Hood.

“Google's lack of response leaves us no choice except to issue subpoenas to Google for possible violations of state consumer protection acts and other state and federal civil and criminal laws.“

Hood claims investigators have already found multiple instances where the auto complete feature leads users to online pharmacies and “rogue" websites with pirated content, and is prepared to share these results with the US Department of Justice.

“Our stance on filtering our search results is well-publicized. We do not remove content from search results except in narrow circumstances (e.g., child sexual abuse imagery, certain links to copyrighted material; spam; malware)," wrote Google Legal Director Adam Barea in a public policy blog post.

“Search results reflect the web and what´s online — the good and the bad. Filtering a website from search results won´t remove it from the web, or block other websites that link to that website. It's not Google's place to determine what content should be censored — that responsibility belongs with the courts and the lawmakers."

Hood has also taken Google to task over their YouTube platform and the revenue earned from the ads on the site. He claims Google makes money on ads served to even the videos which promote illegal activity.

Barea responded by saying that YouTube´s community guidelines govern this content and online flagging tools help the community police themselves and alert the company whenever illegal content is posted on the site.