Hood, other AGs press Google for answers on counterfeit goods sales

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 10, 2013

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) -- Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is asking Internet search giant Google to address concerns by him and other state attorneys general that its website is allowing consumers to obtain illegal and counterfeit goods.

Hood is heading up a group of attorneys general who take issue with Google's search algorithm. They argue it often leads to sites known to sell counterfeit goods -- even dangerous drugs without prescriptions -- being at the top of search results.

Additionally, the attorneys general are concerned that some of the sites selling counterfeit goods are advertising with the search giant.

"On every check we have made, Google's search engine gave us easy access to illegal goods including websites that offer dangerous drugs without a prescription, counterfeit goods of every description, and infringing copies of movies, music, software and games," Hood said in a statement Friday.

"This behavior means that Google is putting consumers at risk and facilitating wrongdoing, all while profiting handsomely from illegal behavior."

Hood, who serves as the co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Intellectual Property Committee, says he has made the concerns known to Google but without any "substantive response" to date.

Because of the lack of response, the attorney general recently sent a letter to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, inviting him to a national meeting of the attorneys general in Boston to take up their concerns.

Among the concerns that would be addressed at the June 18 meeting is content removal.

Google says it only removes content from its search results in a narrow set of circumstances. Hood says the phrase "narrow set of circumstances" seems misleading.

Google's own policies on child exploitation state, "we block search results that lead to child pornography. This is a legal requirement and the right thing to do." However, Google also removes other types of content, the attorney general points out.

For instance, Google removes content from its German portal that glorifies the Nazi party on google.de or insults religion on google.co.in in India.

"Why will Google not remove websites or de-index known websites that purport to sell prescription drugs without a prescription or provide pirated content? Content removal can be done, but it appears Google is unwilling to remove content related to the purchase of prescription drugs without a prescription or the downloading of pirated movies and songs," the attorney general said.

Another concern is auto complete.

Google claimed in an April 19 letter that "the predictions that appear in auto complete are an algorithmic reflection of query terms that are popular with our users and on the Internet. Google does not manually select these terms or determine what queries are considered related to each other."

This statement is misleading, Hood argues.

For example, he points out, a user cannot type in "free child" and receive an auto complete of the words "porn" or "pornography." Google blocks an auto complete of the phrase "free child porn."

However, the phrase "buy oxycodone online" is auto-completed with the words "no prescription cod," the attorney general says.

"Google states in its April 19 letter that removing generic terms such as 'prescription' or 'online' is vastly overbroad," he said. "The issue is not about these words as stand-alone search terms, but phrases that facilitate known illegal behavior."

Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notices also are an issue, the attorney general says.

Google has repeatedly stated that "sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results."

However, websites that continue to appear very prominently in Google search results are the same websites highly listed on Google's Transparency Report, Hood notes.

For example, a search for a popular, newly released DVD results in the website torrentz.eu being the first hit. Torrentz.eu has received over 2,103,239 URL removal requests according to Google's Transparency Report, the attorney general points out.

The attorneys general also are concerned with the role of search engines, like Google, in curbing the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

Google, Hood says, does not mention the role of "search" at all in response to this question, implying that search is not an issue of concern despite what is mentioned above.

Moreover, the search giant does not mention its platform YouTube and the role of search and advertising on YouTube in promoting illegal activities, the attorney general says.

For example, Hood argues, users can search for and view videos purporting to sell prescription drugs without a prescription and other illegal activities all while viewing paid advertisements.

The attorneys general want to know what steps Google is taking to address advertising in conjunction with such illicit videos on YouTube.

"We attorneys general are duty-bound to enforce our consumer protection laws and other civil and criminal statutes," Hood said.

"Google is aiding and abetting criminal activity and putting consumers at risk. This is of grave concern to the chief law enforcement officers of this nation."

Hood says if Google does not "adequately address" their concerns, it will be slapped with subpoenas, forcing it to produce documents and answer questions.

"We take the safety of our users very seriously and we've explained to Attorney General Hood how we enforce policies to combat rogue online pharmacies and counterfeit drugs," Google spokesman Aaron Stein said in an email Monday.

"In the last two years, we've removed more than 3 million ads for illegal pharmacies. We continue to work on this issue with industry partners and groups like the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

Want to get notified whenever we write about Mississippi Attorney General ?

Sign-up Next time we write about Mississippi Attorney General, we'll email you a link to the story. You may edit your settings or unsubscribe at any time.

Organizations in this Story

Mississippi Attorney General

More News

The Record Network