Justice Department: To Protect Pharma Profits, We'll Just Take Money From Google
from the it's-enough-to-drive-someone-to-drugs... dept
So the big story of the day seems to be about the Justice Department getting Google to “forfeit” $500 million for having ads in the US for Canadian pharmacies. This isn’t a huge surprise. News broke of the investigation a few months ago, when Google mentioned in an SEC filing that it had set aside $500 million to settle this particular matter. The Justice Department, in typical fashion, play up how they’re protecting Americans from harm blah, blah, blah.
Here’s the thing: I can’t figure out how this makes any sense at all. First off, why is Google to blame? As we’ve discussed repeatedly, the US is pretty clear on its liability laws that liability should be applied to the party actually responsible, not third party platforms. Google accepted ads. That should not make it responsible for the content in those ads, let alone transactions that may occur because of those ads. Even worse, Google clearly made quite an effort to make sure such ads only involved legit drugs:
Google changed its policy on pharmacy ads in February 2010, so that it would only take ads from U.S. pharmacies accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and from online pharmacies in Canada that are accredited by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.
So, now, as a media property that has advertising, do I need to fear that the Justice Department can force me to forfeit money because one of you clicks on an ad and makes a transaction that the government thinks is illegal? That’s insane!
On top of this, it’s even more ridiculous, because the US government has almost always turned a blind eye to grey market imports of drugs from Canadian pharmacies, because they know that without such affordable drugs, people will die. Here we have the Justice Department not helping to save lives, but helping to kill people off by making it that much more difficult to get approved drugs from Canada at more reasonable prices. In fact, amusingly, Senator Patrick Leahy is pushing legislation that will expand the ability of Americans to import such drugs (at the same time he’s sponsoring the PROTECT IP Act, which wold force such sites off the internet — he’s not particularly consistent, that Senator Leahy).
Let’s face facts here. This has absolutely nothing to do with public safety. This is a cynical move by the Obama administration to ensure support from the pharma industry. Early on in his administration, President Obama specifically supported allowing re-importation from Canadian pharmacies. In fact, the White House has repeatedly said that it’s completely in favor of allowing such reimportation.
And yet now it takes $500 million from Google not for actually doing that, but for allowing ads to appear that promote a program the administration has officially endorsed? It’s hard not to take the cynical view and simply see this as the US government taking from Google in an effort to make the US pharma industry (who hate, hate, hate Canadian imports) happy.
In the meantime, as Ryan Singel points out, Google is getting dinged $500 million here, while Goldman Sachs got dinged $550 million for “melting the economy.” I guess Wall Street and pharma have much better lobbyists than Google.