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Google has agreed to forfeit $500 million, one of the largest penalties of its kind, for letting Canadian pharmacies market prescription drugs to U.S. citizens through its AdWords online advertising platform from 2003 to 2009, the U.S. Justice Department announced today.

The settlement resolves a case that first surfaced publicly when Google took a surprise $500 million charge on its books after reporting its quarterly financial results this spring.

“The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable companies who in their bid for profits violate federal law and put at risk the health and safety of American consumers,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole in the DOJ announcement.  “This settlement ensures that Google will reform its improper advertising practices with regard to these pharmacies while paying one of the largest financial forfeiture penalties in history.”

Search Engine Land quote this statement from Google: “We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago. However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place. Given the extensive coverage this settlement has already received, we won’t be commenting further.”

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