Search giant Google has set aside half a billion dollars to settle a criminal investigation headed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Wall Street Journal first reported.
Google allegedly accepted advertising from Canadian pharmacies in violation of U.S. law. Buying prescription drugs online has become a popular practice in recent years, partly to gain access to medication without prescription, but also because they are cheaper from countries where medical care is largely state subsidized.
It's still unclear exactly how much the Department of Justice will demand, but Google revealed in a recent regulatory filing that it had set aside $500 million in conjunction with a potential settlement. Both the Department of Justice and Google declined to comment.
Online advertisers in general and search engines in particular have had to weed out marketers looking to sell illegal activity or products, from pharmaceuticals to online gambling. In 2007, Google, along with Microsoft and Yahoo, settled with the Justice Department for a combined $31 million for allowing gambling-site ads.
Last year, Google said it would take ads from accredited pharmacies in the U.S. as well as Canada. Drug and medical advertising has become a closely watched practice. The Food and Drug Administration has been working with the Federal Trade Commission to monitor how medications are marketed and sold online.
Separately, Google has been facing antitrust scrutiny from attorneys general in Texas and Rhode Island for a number of its business lines, from search to travel, after its recent purchase of travel-search firm ITA.