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State Attorney General May Take on Google

The Internet is a wild and wooly place, a kind of Wild West where it sometimes seems that anything goes. But when there is a real-world impact, there’s the possibility of real-world prosecutions and charges levied against the names behind the websites. This looks like the route Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood may be taking, at least based on his comments at a meeting of state attorney generals held in Boston.

According to Mercury News, the target will likely be Google.

At issue is the practice of “Internet pharmacies” that sell drugs illegally in Mississippi (and other states). These outfits may spring up overnight, sell to anyone who can fake up a prescription, and then disappear. Those that remain around long enough to prosecute are usually hidden by privacy laws and by concealing who is the actual owner. They use proxies and other tricks to stay one step ahead of any investigation. At the first sign of a subpoena for records, the whole operation may disappear – something fairly easy to do on the Internet.

But there may be a way to get at these folks. Customers typically find them by doing a Google search, and the online pharmacies know this. Many will pay for a sponsored ad with Google to attract customers. And that’s a key factor. Google ads have to be paid for by someone. Those payments may connect the operation to a bank account and a person – a flesh and blood person who can then be prosecuted. What’s more, even when an operation vanishes, Google still retains their history – hits through ads can be tracked, as well as page visits and other information. If a Gmail account is used, those records are also retained.

By subpoenaing Google for these records, the hope is that some Internet pharmacies can be connected to what police see on the street. A labeled drug from an online source seized as evidence could then be tracked back to whoever originally mailed it into Mississippi.

This isn’t the first time Google has been involved in online pharmacy shenanigans. They paid a 500 million dollar fine for allowing ads from foreign pharmacies selling illegally to patients in the United States.

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