Google's "Love Feud" with Medical Ads

On May 3rd, shareholders looked at Baidu's U.S. stock price.Baidu, which is listed on the NASDAQ, closed down nearly 8 percent on May 2 local time, wiping $5.6 billion off its market value after an escalating health-advertising controversy and an investigation by multiple ministries. Visual China Supply

Google's "Love Feud" with Medical Ads
Hu Ning, China Youth Daily
May 11, 2016 11th edition
Google has long insisted that it should not be held responsible for the actions of more than 1 million advertisers. But for now, their comments on the case are succinct: "We are responsible for our actions. Looking back, we shouldn't allow these ads to exist. "

Now, when people turn on Google's search engine to search for a disease, the results are automatically divided into two distinct camps: one is natural search results and the other is a medical advertisement with a yellow shadow.

This is one of the "legacies" of the David Whitaker affair in 2009.

Such a clear page is not taken for granted. In the past, Internet giants such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were unable to deny the economic profits from medical advertising, even if some illegal ads sold prescription drugs that could cause serious side effects or misled the public into believing in the false effects of certain therapies and drugs. But David Whitaker, a fake drug dealer and a tainted witness to the FBI, has used his well-known advertising ad-making ad-making skill to uncover google's regulatory loopholes in pharmaceutical advertising.

As a result, Google was fined $500m, the largest corporate fine in the United States at the time.

Google's punishment has been a watershed in the U.S. effort to tackle the internet's medical advertising chaos.

Since then, Internet giants, including Microsoft and Yahoo! have stopped pretending to be partners in the U.S. pharmaceutical regulatory system.

Now, looking back at the whole process of Google being investigated and punished, Liu Yang, an assistant professor at Peking University's Shenzhen Graduate School, says:Google's current performance comes not from personal ethics, but from corporate ethics and the rule of law environment on which it is based.


A few years ago, it wasn't hard to run medical ads on Google, even if it was fake ads or illegal drugs.

On May 1this year, Lu Loe, a doctor with a doctor who is a doctor at the University of Tokyo and now lives in the United States, shared his "new findings" on Weibo: when searching for medical information on Google, the first answers were provided by the Mayo Clinic, the top U.S. hospital, and all of which were reviewed by 11 specialists at the hospital.

"Make an ad for google." Lulo, whose name is "Don't blame you," made no secret of his praise for Google.

Just a few years ago, however, it was the use of search engines that made life better for professional fraudster David Whitaker. Just lying in his million-dollar Mexican apartment and pouring a milliliter of water into a capsule can turn it into a $1,000 steroid drug. Then move your fingers and send an online ad, and these fake drugs are exchanged for large sums of money from ordinary people across the United States who are completely unmedically literate.

The Internet is not just changing his life.

People are becoming more and more accustomed to relying on search engines to solve life problems. In this respect, there is no difference between Chinese and American patients. Li Wei, a nutritionist at a sana-level hospital, found that in recent years, most of the patients had started talking to her in the phrase "doctors I saw on the Internet". "Because nutrition and daily life are very close, so there are a lot of problems. For example, red wine is good for the heart, Li said. "

In her opinion,Compared to professional diagnostics, "more than half of the online search results are scientifically unsubstantiated", which makes it take her a lot of time to overturn misinformation each time.

"In fact, many patients are more convinced online. Even her own mother sometimes believes in online information, she says with a laugh.

Zhang Qing, another obstetrician and paediatrician at Sanjia Hospital, feels the same way. In the clinic, she meets many patients who will request a full set of tests based on the results of online inquiries. When doctors tell them according to medical principles that they don't need it, "you can see in his eyes that he doesn't think you're paying attention to him." Zhang Qing said.

In the United States, what changed that reality was that the FBI used Whitaker to issue the first shot of online medical advertising regulation.

Google doesn't automatically realize that medical advertising censoring is lax. As early as 2003, Google was questioned about drug advertising. A year later, when the Senate proposed a bill to regulate online pharmacies, the company's first reaction was that the measures would be heavy.

Sheryl Sandberg, Google's vice president at the time, urged that Google's efforts in advertising regulation were "beyond what is required by existing law": they used third-party authentication services, and in addition to automated surveillance systems, there was a team of google employees.


In fact, this audit mechanism is far from unassailable. In 2009, Whittaker, who is familiar with the road, re-enacted in front of the police how Google's customer service helped him bypass automated audits, buy keywords and drop them in the front row of Google search results.

Since then, fees have no longer dominated the ranking of search results. Today, searching for medical information on Google, natural search results will be more forward than advertising, and the link in front of the medical ads, there will be a prominent yellow "advertising" words, and the difference between normal search results, at a glance.

In addition, all Internet pharmacies that run drug search ads on Google must obtain a U.S. government-issued Internet Pharmacy Practice Certification (VIPPS), and internet advertisers of prescription drugs must be certified by the Nabp Network Advertising.

That is, even those with eye-catching yellow lettering on the head of the ads must come from the regular online pharmacy. Otherwise, they are not qualified to run medical ads on search engines at all.

And this rigor is not innate.


"These 'fragments of knowledge' that give many patients a lot of confidence in the temporary embrace of Buddha's feet"

At the age of 34, Whittaker, a former drug dealer, left the Rhode Island detention center in handcuffs. He is determined to be a "tainted witness" for the FBI.

Whitaker is betting.

If this time he can't prove that Google helped him publish a fake ad, he could face up to 65 years in prison - he'll have to live to 100 to wait until the day he gets out of jail.

Detectives used a common method of business investigation: using Whitaker as a "mystery customer" to repeat the whole process of Google's help with him advertising illegal drugs.

He changed his name to Jason Clint, who lived in the basement of an old building, accompanied by two monitors, a laptop, a landline phone and a cell phone, with agents behind him.

For the next three months, "Jason" threw in $20,000 a week in Google, paying google customer service in different parts of the world. Customer service guide him to change the name of the website that is clearly selling illegal drugs, delete the name of too many drugs in the website, let him pass the audit and then add back. Even if it was clear that his drug was illegal, there was no customer service to stop "Jason" from advertising.

When Google learned of the investigation, it immediately stopped its advertising service and sued some advertisers for violating the Terms of Use. Google then adopted stricter third-party auditing standards: they no longer accept ads for drugs and online pharmacies that are not certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Pharmacy Council (NABP).

Since then, medical information that people can search for on Google, even ads, is a government-approved formal drug and treatment.

Drug advertising outside the FDA's purview is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The two sides liaise regularly to ensure that there is no "vacuum zone" in the division of labour. In addition, the self-regulatory organization National Advertising Organization (NAD) monitors advertising and publishes the monitoring reports regularly in the Advertising Age, the authoritative publication of the U.S. advertising industry.

On top of that, the FBI is "going to the bottom" of these agencies. If these agencies can't handle it, the FBI will use all the means to leave violators in the crossbar, as it did to Google.
Together, the five institutions not only protect patients, but also facilitate doctors.Now practicing medicine in the United States, Lu Luoyuan on the search engine is quite fond: "in the United States medical institutions are more formal, the information is accurate, patients themselves query will save us a lot of things." "

Zhai Zhongxing, a chest surgeon at Beijing Concord Hospital, often encounters patients who visit the clinic with information found online, but he is a completely different feeling. Zhai Zhongxing can count the common characteristics of those patients: the professional term head is the Tao, but know the term only, the understanding of tetanus, vaccines and other basic concepts are biased;

"These temporary 'fragments of knowledge' have given many patients a lot of confidence. "Often, patients don't necessarily trust doctors after struggling to explain them. Zhai Zhongxing can not help but worry: "This kind of patients after surgery compliance are very poor, how can it be conducive to treatment?" "


That's what the U.S. has learned in the long-term development of a market economy

Google has long insisted that it should not be held responsible for the actions of more than 1 million advertisers. But for now, their comments on the case are very succinct:"We are responsible for our actions. Looking back, we shouldn't allow these ads to exist. "

"Rogue pharmacies are not good for our users, for legitimate online pharmacies and for the entire e-commerce industry. So we will continue to invest time and money to stop these harmful behaviors. Michael Zweibelman, Google's legal counsel, wrote.

The internet giants have been able to quickly change the mess of medical advertising, thanks to a regulatory network of several regulators that set clear standards for "doing evil" and are waiting to put a foot in the new "evil" trap.

Google has made a fresh choice after eating a "sky-high ticket". In 2012, Google implemented an FDA directive to ban u.S. regional detoxand and remove health products in the U.S. after the removal of heavy metals, and was unfazed by the release of hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising on the site each year.

In 2014, google announced a $250 million special fund to crack down on "illegal online pharmacies" and improve the display of prescription drug abuse-related content, in line with NABP's rules to crack down on multinational online pharmacies.

Google's quick turnaround was no accident. 'Google's current commitment to future technology is also based on the logic that it has a sense of crisis that cannot afford to lose its lead, ' Mr. Liu said."A benign enterprise will certainly want to be what the future is, think of the future it will establish a better profit model, to achieve economic and social benefits of the double harvest."

Liu Yang believes that Google has formed such corporate ethics, thanks to the rule of law environment to reduce the cost of enterprises, enterprises have more time and space to cultivate self-discipline, and with the rule of law, and social ethics to form a benign interaction.

"In fact, companies are looking to shorten their capital cycles, and power rent-seeking increases costs. Too high a cost will lead to a short-sighted and brutal profit model. Liu Yang said, "To promote the development of non-public economy, we must provide private enterprises with a sound and perfect environment under the rule of law, to make clear what can be done or what can not be done, slowly from more casual administrative intervention to clear and clear governance in accordance with the law." "

In Liu Yang's view, this is the experience that the United States has provided in the long-term development of the market economy.

At the end of the investigation into Google, agents announced to Google sales representatives that "Jason" had died in a car accident.

In fact, Whitaker, who was hiding behind "Jason," soon walked out of prison with ease. He returned to social life after only five years in prison after successfully proving that Google had helped him publish a fake ad.

Google is not as easy as Whitaker. After paying a $500m fine, Google's public image was tarnished and its share price evaporated. It later went on to settle a lawsuit with some of its shareholders, paying $250 million.

Shortly after Google's punishment, two other internet giants, Microsoft and Yahoo!, implemented the same policies as Google.

Whittaker was freetor from shackles, and Google took the shackles.

Behind them, a new American online medical environment has been reborn.

(At the request of the interviewee, Li Wei and Zhang Qing are pseudonyms)

Editor of this edition: Huang Wei