DOJ: Google Settles to End Investigation Into Illegal Ads

Late last week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Google has agreed to forfeit $500 million in profits from advertisements for Canadian pharmacies that targeted consumers in the United States. But the DOJ's criminal investigation also uncovered some unsavory information about the online giant's CEO, Larry Page: Apparently, Page knew about the illegal ads years ago and did nothing to stop them.

Not saucy enough? Consider this: Part of Google's settlement with the DOJ stipulates that the incriminating email messages that prove Page was in on the illegal ad scam won't ever be made public. That's right. The DOJ has actually colluded with Google to protect Larry Page's reputation.

"Larry Page knew what was going on," said Peter Neronha, the US Attorney from Rhode Island who led the probe against Google. "We know it from the investigation. We simply know it from the documents we reviewed, witnesses that we interviewed, that Larry Page knew what was going on." His comments were made originally to the Wall Street Journal.

Aside from the $500 million settlement, the DOJ also got an admission of wrongdoing from Google: The online giant admitted that it knowingly allowed Canadian pharmacies to run ads targeting US-based users, which is illegal. This is fairly rare for a settlement of this kind, but clearly Google felt that protecting Page was more important.

The company's only comment about this episode is succinct: "We have settled and we are moving on," a representative for Google said. "It's obvious with hindsight that we shouldn't have allowed these ads on Google in the first place."

According to the DOJ, Google began breaking US laws as early as 2003, but the agency wasn't able to ban the advertisements until a 2009 sting operation gave them the evidence they needed. During this time, Google officials testified numerous times that it rigorously tested its internal systems to block illegal advertisements on its market-leading ad network, which feeds off its dominant Internet search engine.

Mr. Neronha says that was all a lie. While Google was allegedly trying to prevent illegal ads from appearing on its network, it was deriving revenues from ads it knew to be illegal, even after receiving warnings from the DOJ in both 2003 and 2008. "This is not two or three rogue employees at the customer service level doing this on their own," he said. "This was a corporate decision to engage in this conduct."
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