Feeds

Google mounts attack on penis-pill pushers

One minion at a time

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

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. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.