How Google puts the kibosh on rogue pharmacies

Google wields a big sheriff's badge when it tells online snake-oil salesmen to peddle their wares elsewhere.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
2 min read
Turns out, this ad to check if your online pharmacy is "legit" is itself legit. Google

Will annoying online drug pitches ever go the way of pop-up ads? Probably not. But Google revealed on Tuesday some behind-the-scenes techniques it uses to decrease the visibility of rogue online pharmacies.

"Rogue pharmacies continually adapt their online marketing practices, meaning this is an ongoing battle," wrote Google legal director Adam Barea in a blog post about how the company combats these pharmacies.

Google stringently scrutinizes online pharmacy ad buys, including using the third-party tool LegitScript to create a higher bar for pharmacies. Since 2010, only ads from accredited U.S.-based online pharmacies have been approved. The accreditation program, called VIPPS, includes fewer than 40 pharmacies.

LegitScript, which bills itself as the "leading source of online pharmacy verification," says that illegal pharmacy and drug ads have decreased 99 percent on Google and Bing since VIPPS accreditation enforcement began.

Google has other tools to help it block rogue pharmacies. It recently removed several videos from YouTube for promoting pharmaceuticals in violation of its guidelines; it has begun to look at tweaks to search box autocomplete results; and it has collaborated with other tech companies and the U.S. government.

One thing that Google does only rarely, and usually when legally required to do so, is exclude rogue pharmacies from search results. "Filtering a website from search results won't remove it from the Web, or block other websites that link to that Web site," Barea said.

If the Internet has become a less safe place for Cialis ads, that can only benefit everybody else.