Feeds

Google mounts attack on penis-pill pushers

One minion at a time

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Google says it has mounted a legal offensive against website operators who use its ad services to hawk penis-enlargement pills and other prescription drugs to people in the US without a license.

In a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the search behemoth accused the owners of two websites of intentionally bypassing prohibitions preventing unlicensed online pharmacies from selling drugs through its AdWords program. According to the complaint (PDF), the advertisers used a variety of tricks to evade technical restrictions designed to enforce the policy.

In a never-ending game of cat and mouse, the advertisers have responded by bidding on words with minor misspellings of the forbidden terms, such as “sildennafil” instead of Sildenafil. As searches like this one show, such techniques continue to ensure that Google pumps out a huge number of ads that are illegal in the US.

“In recent years, we have noticed a marked increase in the number of rogue pharmacies, as well [as] an increasing sophistication in their methods,” Michael Zwibelman, Google's litigation counsel, blogged here. “This has meant that despite our best efforts – from extensive verification procedures, to automated keyword blocking, to changing our ads policies – a small percentage of pharma ads from these rogue companies is is still appearing on Google.”

He goes on to cast the lawsuit as a “serious deterrent” to anyone trying to circumvent the rules, but one has to wonder.

So far the complaint names a single individual, one Omar Jackman, owner of 4rx-online.com. Reached on Wednesday, he told The Register he advertised prescription drugs on Google for only about three weeks as an affiliate of a much bigger website called 4rx.com. When Google sent him an email demanding he stop running the ads in May or June, he complied, he said.

“To be honest i didn't know you couldn't do that until I saw the warning,” he said. “They issued a warning and I stopped immediately.”

Jackman said his entire take for the campaign was about $40, which he claims was paid to him through PayPal.

The account suggests that Google is going after the lowest level offenders, the narcotics equivalent of the corner dealer selling nickle bags.

The complaint concedes that “the combination of possible misspellings of drug terms is virtually limitless.” And as far as we can tell, so too is the supply of affiliate marketers. Zwibelman's blog post said the complaint will be amended as more offenders are identified. But unless it is updated to name the kingpins, it's likely going to be an exercise in futility. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
Apple grapple: Congress kills FBI's Cupertino crypto kybosh plan
Encryption would lead us all into a 'dark place', claim G-Men
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.