In today's episode of Notes From the Field we jump right over the question of "Has Google violated its famous 'Don't be evil' mantra?" and go straight to "By how much?"
Ben Edelman says they're plenty evil, and it's time to reconsider in a new light all of the mistakes Google has "accidentally" made –- from its ad policies to Wi-Fi spying -- following its recent settlement with the Department of Justice over pharma ads.
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Edelman is a Harvard Law professor and a serious geek who made his bones by exposing spyware and adware companies. He's since moved on to research Google's collusion with typosquatters and how its search toolbars track consumers even after they opt out, to name but a few topics.
The background: For a period of several years, Google allowed Canadian pharmacies to advertise their wares in the United States, despite laws prohibiting advertisements from non-U.S. pill-pushers. Google claimed it had no idea this was happening, and once it discovered the illegal ads, it put an end to the practice. However, in papers filed with the DOJ, the ad giant admits that it knew it was breaking the law all along, but pocketed the money just the same.
Google is now paying a $500 million fine for its transgressions, which leads me to conclude that it made significantly more than that from foreign pharma ads.
(As an aside: For the record, I'm no fan of Big Pharma. As cartels go, they make OPEC look like a high school glee club. I see no reason why pills that cost 5 cents in Windsor, Canada, should cost $5 when they cross the river into Detroit. But I don't make the laws -- Congress and handsomely paid lobbyists do. OK, I'm done now.)
Edelman's point: Google knew it was breaking U.S. law and lied about it.
"These admissions and the associated documents confirm what I had long suspected: Not only does Google often ignore its stated 'policies,' but in fact Google staff affirmatively assist supposed 'rule-breakers' when Google finds it profitable to do so….
"…Google has an obvious incentive to allow deceptive and unlawful ads: each extra advertising means extra revenue… Furthermore, unlawful and deceptive ads have been widespread; I found dozens in just a few hours of work. Meanwhile, it's hard to reconcile Google's engineering strength -- capably indexing billions of pages and tabulating billions of links -- with the company's supposed inability to identify new advertisements mentioning or targeting a few dozen terms known to deceive consumers…. Unlawful ads persist at Google not just because advertisers seek to be listed, but also because Google intentionally lets them stay and even offers them special assistance."