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Google Search Shows Suspect Sites for Drug, Baby Teether: Study

Gerrit De Vynck

(Bloomberg) -- Google searches for a popular antibiotic and a baby teething product send some users to suspect websites, according to a report released on Monday by a firm that tracks trademark and copyright infringement online.

Earlier this year, six of the 10 results on the first page for the Google search “buy Bactrim online” showed links to websites that were “operating unlawfully and misusing” the Bactrim trademark, Incopro Ltd. said in the study.

Another Google search for “wholesale Comotomo teether” produced nine organic results that directed users to an online marketplace or e-commerce website. Three of those sites listed “potentially harmful products that misuse the Comotomo trademark,” Incopro also reported.

The results are based on searches Incopro ran using its software and data from web marketing firm SimilarWeb Ltd. Incopro wrote to Alphabet Inc.’s Google about its findings and the company said it got a written response from the internet giant, which it quoted in the study.

“Google aggregates information published on the web returning users different web pages that relate to their search requests, but we don’t make any claims about the content of these pages,” Google wrote in its response, according to Incopro.

Google has had a mixed record in dealing with contentious websites, Incopro said. The internet giant will remove website addresses from its search index for infringing copyright. But it won’t act when it is told that its search engine is pointing to sites selling counterfeits and infringing trademark rights, Incopro said. The firm noted that that other large internet companies including Facebook Inc., EBay Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. will take action in these cases.

“Google takes the view that it is not (and cannot be) a ‘publisher’ when it is told that it is returning results for counterfeit web pages and so it does nothing,” Incopro wrote in its report. “If Google did remove these websites from their index these sites would be starved of oxygen and would fail.”

The study suggests that Google search results for antibiotics are still showing suspect websites almost as much as they were three years ago, when another report from the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies showed 65% of search results for prescription drug terms led U.S. consumers to sites selling unapproved and dangerous medication.

Search engines like Google should do more to protect consumers from unsafe results, Incopro said. “The FDA and other government bodies have limited resources and cannot be expected to solve every problem,” the report said. “Brand owners should be able to request that search engines de-index these sites themselves.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gerrit De Vynck in New York at gdevynck@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Alistair Barr, Anne VanderMey

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