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Date Posted: 23:02:18 12/29/03 Mon
Author: Observer
Subject: Scams: Unlicensed pharmacies dumped

Unlicensed pharmacies dumped
Search engine Google stops accepting ads

By Michael Liedtke, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Online search engine Google Inc. has stopped accepting advertisements from unlicensed pharmacies, joining other popular Web sites that have bowed to pressure to curb the illegal distribution of prescription drugs such as Vicodin.

Google's decision follows a similar move last month by a Yahoo Inc. subsidiary, Overture Services, that distributes ads to the Web sites operated by its parent company and Microsoft's MSN. America Online began restricting ad sales to unlicensed pharmacies two years ago.

Google's ad ban doesn't affect the noncommercial results that its search engine displays after scientific algorithms pore through 3.3 billion Web pages stored in its database.

"Google supports end user choice in commerce and we will work hard to ensure there is always consumer choice and value in online pharmacies," the Mountain View-based company said Monday in a statement.

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The crackdown on unlicensed pharmacies comes as regulators and Congress intensify their focus on third parties -- Web sites, credit companies and shipping companies -- that make it easier for illicit operators to sell potentially dangerous drugs.

A major trade group for legitimate pharmacies and Drugstore.com, a major online advertiser, also have been pushing for an Internet marketing ban on illegal operators.

Both Overture and Google allow advertisers to display their Web links whenever computer users search for certain words, such as Vicodin. The ads usually are highlighted near the top of Web pages to encourage visitors to click.

The marketing approach has become a hit among businesses looking for new customers. But the system also has made it easier for unlicensed pharmacies to sell highly addictive painkillers and tranquilizers to consumers who don't have the proper doctor's prescription. Critics of the unlicensed pharmacies say ads are even generating sales to minors.

Google said it plans to establish a screening system to verify a pharmacy is properly licensed before selling an ad. Overture isn't accepting ads from any pharmacies until it has established a way to verify licenses, something that is expected to occur before April next year.

Shunning pharmacy ads will likely cause some financial pain for Google and Yahoo. The health care industry accounts for about 5 percent of Internet advertising, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, a research firm.

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