Wired Revisits Story Of Federal Sting & $500M Penalty Over Google’s Pharmacy Ads

google-adwords-square-logoWired is telling the story of David Whitaker, a federal prisoner that helped the U.S. government catch Google breaking the law by allowing and helping foreign pharmacies sell drugs via Google AdWords.

It’s a story you may have heard before; the Wall Street Journal did a similar exposé on Whitaker and the federal sting operation in early 2012.

Wired tells how Whitaker used a pseudonym and convinced Google AdWords reps to help him tweak his pharmacy websites so that they’d be approved for AdWords.

To prove that Google’s behavior was widespread, Whitaker went through a different rep—one that the country manager of Google Mexico helped connect him with and who showed no more resistance to Whitaker’s schemes. Despite the site’s open promise to sell RU-486, it passed Google’s policy review on its first try, without any objections. Working with his rep, Whitaker spent $25,000 on ads against a series of explicit search terms: “abortion,” “abortion services,” “medical abortion,” and “RU-486.” None of the ad buys triggered any red flags from Google.

Whitaker kept designing new sites, working with different Google account reps to advertise ever sketchier online businesses. TaoTeWellness.com sold psychotropic drugs. “TaoTeWellness is a provider of the medications listed on this site,” the homepage read, above photos of Valium and Xanax. “There are no embarrassing doctor’s visits involved.” It was hard to be more up front than that, but Google’s reps in China didn’t just approve the site. They also added more than 100 drug names as search keywords, without even asking Whitaker.

It’s essentially the same story as what the WSJ reported last year, though the Wired version may have a few more details this time around.

The end result of the government’s sting was Google acknowledging that it broke the law and agreeing to a $500 million settlement with the Department of Justice in 2011.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google | Google: AdWords | Google: Legal | Legal: Regulation

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Always good to see timely news from WIRED. I hear they’re going to break the Daniel Ellsberg story pretty soon.

  • sleepd

    Don’t be evil.

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