Documents shared with the Wall Street Journal
indicate that Google was repeatedly warned that many of its advertising partners were illegal online drug stores.
Correspondence dating back to 2003 from the NABP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
) urged Google to only accept adverts from verified, legal pharmacies.
Later correspondence raised doubts over the legitimacy of advertisers Google was working with. A third letter, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
requested that Google 'block all advertisements for controlled prescription drugs that do not come from licensed and certified online pharmacies,
' and that Google 'screen such sites from Internet searches.
Federal prosecutors in the USA have been investigating the the search giant's acceptance of advertising from illegal drug sellers, and Google has already set aside a $500m war chest to settle the case.
Whether Google's verification systems for online pharmacies were merely flawed or the company chose to ignore the issue remains unclear, but it seems unlikely that the company will be able to claim ignorance on the matter.
If a case is brought against Google, it's unlikely to be the only search engine in trouble; both Yahoo! and Microsoft used the same, flawed PharmacyChecker verification service. All three switched to NABP's list of verified pharmacies last year.
Have search engines cleaned up their act? Did they turn a blind eye to the online drugs problem for too long? Let us know in the forums