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Mississippi leans on Google to crack down on illegal products

An employee rides her bike past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
An employee rides her bike past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mississippi's attorney general said on Tuesday he would subpoena documents from Google Inc as part of a probe into allegations the Web search company facilitated the sale of drugs without a prescription and other illegal products.

Google responded in a blog post that it had been vigorous in working to limit drug advertisements to legitimate companies that comply with the law and to combat what it called "rogue online pharmacies."

Jim Hood, who heads an intellectual property section of the National Association of Attorneys General, said in a statement that he asked Google chief executive Larry Page to discuss the allegations at the group's summer meeting in Boston this week, but Page had not done so.

Besides the drug sales, Mississippi is investigating Google's role in helping consumers find counterfeit products and illegal copies of movies, games and music.

Hood planned to subpoena Google for records and emails related to the issue and urged other attorneys general to follow suit.

One of Hood's concerns is that Google's auto complete feature offers the words "no prescription" when a computer user types the phrase "buy oxycodone online" in a search box, he said in the statement.

A test of the auto complete function on Tuesday found that a user who searches for "buy oxycodone online" is now offered "legally" and "with a prescription" as options.

Oxycodone is a highly addictive painkiller and a hot seller on the black market.

Hood also expressed frustration that Google refused to block sites that illegally sell prescription drugs or pirated goods.

"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 said in the statement.

In 2011, Google forfeited $500 million dollars for allowing Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements to illegally sell prescription drugs to U.S. customers.

On Google's public policy blog, Adam Barea, a Google legal director, said that in the last two years alone, Google has blocked or removed more than 3 million ads by suspected rogue pharmacies.

But the company does not have the power to block legal websites, Barea said.

"Filtering a website from search results won't remove it from the web, or block other websites that link to that website," he wrote, adding that Google would abide by court decisions on which content on the Web is or is not legal.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz.; Editing by Ros Krasny)

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