Feeds

Google mounts attack on penis-pill pushers

One minion at a time

Website security in corporate America

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. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.