Microsoft Bing Riding High on Illegal Pharmaceuticals

Bing has gotten lots of good press recently for its excellent search capabilities and growing market share. But a new report brings not-very-savory charges against the search site, claiming that 90% of pharmacies that advertise on it engage in illegal activity or are fraudulent.

The IDG News Service reports that:

"Microsoft profits by selling online ads on its search engine to criminal gangs running pharmaceutical Web sites that offer medication to people without a proper prescription, according to a new study."

The report was put together by KnujOn, an antispam company, and LegitScript, which verifies the legitimacy of online pharmacies. The report's conclusions are quite disturbing, and link the ads to criminal gangs in Russia, and online pharmacies selling counterfeit drugs. Here, straight from the report, are the highlights of what it found:

* Of the prescription drug and online pharmacy advertisements sponsored by Microsoft that we reviewed, 89.7% led to "rogue" Internet pharmacies that do not require a prescription for prescription drugs, or are otherwise acting unlawfully or fraudulently.

* Despite Microsoft's stated policy of only sponsoring Internet pharmacies that supply drugs from the United States or Canada, beginning by clicking on one of Microsoft's advertisers, the authors received prescription drugs, without a prescription, from India. The drugs tested counterfeit.

* Most of the prescription drug advertisements sponsored by Microsoft that were reviewed for this report did not require a prescription for the sale of prescription drugs, including addictive medicines and controlled substances.

* Some ads were displayed for a legitimate US-based Internet pharmacy, but directed Internet users to a completely different, illegal Internet pharmacy website.

* Some rogue Internet pharmacies sponsored by Microsoft are members of "affiliate pharmacy networks" linked to Russian organized crime that operate thousands of fake Internet pharmacies.

The report also notes that:

"It is important to emphasize that the ten advertisers analyzed in this report are not engaged in minor violations of pharmacy law. Rather, they are wholly fraudulent websites run, in most cases, by criminal networks. They sell unapproved or counterfeit drugs, including addictive medications, without any requirement of a prescription. The drugs come from places like Calcutta, India, which is a violation of US drug safety regulations. In several cases, the websites are operated by individuals in Russia or Eastern Europe, not US-based pharmacists. In short, these "Internet pharmacies" are neither pharmacies at all, nor run by pharmacists: they are simply online street corners run by drug dealers. Bing.com sponsored pharmacy rx-line.com is actually based in Calcutta, India, not the U.S."

Disturbing stuff, but Microsoft certainly can't be accused of cooperating with dealers of illegal or fraudulent drugs. However, the report does claim that Microsoft has been warned several times about the issue, and hasn't taken action.

Microsoft told the IDG News Service that "we take these claims very seriously and are currently investigating this issue." The IDG News Service also notes that similar searches done on Yahoo and Google turn up ads for drug sites that look questionable as well.

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