PharmacyChecker Blog

Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Do Google & Bing censor online pharmacy search results? Pharmaceutical companies have called for censorship.

Google Bing search engine censorship

Until we lower drug prices here at home in America, online access to affordable medication internationally is clearly essential. But what if we lived in a country where people were no longer able to find safe international options online?

In an ideal world, search algorithms empower consumers to find the exact information they are looking for on these search engines. In a recent Google algorithm update (March 2019), which affected the “natural” or “organic,” non-paid search results, we wonder if there was foul play involved in which Google was caving in to Big Pharma. The Electronic Frontier Foundation identified this problem in 2016, in “How Big Pharma’s Shadow Regulation Censors the Internet.

The results at the very top of your Google search are often ads, which are of course paid placement: a different problem.

Please check out our new video on this difficult and troubling topic of censorship of online pharmacy and drug prices content.

Those patients searching on Google for information about affording medicine through online pharmacies were significantly disadvantaged by the Google March 2019 Core Update. The reason is that results for PharmacyChecker ‘s verification and pricing information are now much harder to find than they were on March 11th, 2019— a day before the update.

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Bing is Promoting Dangerous Online Pharmacies, Says New Study

Bing is Promoting Dangerous Online Pharmacies, Says New Study

According to a new study published by the American Enterprise Institute, the search engine Bing, which is owned by Microsoft, has added pop-up warnings to search results that increase the chances that web searchers will click to rogue online pharmacies. As the reports shows, Bing’s action appears to purposefully thwart safe personal importation of more affordable medicines. It is one of the clearest examples of censorship resulting from “voluntary agreements” among Internet companies, “encouraged” by regulators, that will threaten the health of patients buying medicine online under the guise of protecting them. Bing has placed warnings on its organic search results of Canadian-based and other international online pharmacies, yet the search engine fails to do so for many rogue websites, ones proven to sell counterfeit drugs. Here’s how that happened.

The problem is Bing’s use of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) Not Recommended List (NRL). Many of the NABP’s programs involving online sales of medicines and educating the public about online pharmacies are funded by drug companies, and therefore supportive of the industry’s profit-protecting goals against importation.

Bing’s Backwards Partnership with the NABP

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Bing’s New Online Pharmacy “Warnings” Are Misguided and Threaten Public Health

Last week, Bing announced a new effort to use its search engine to warn consumers about threats from “fake” online pharmacies. The big problem is that at least some of the online pharmacies they list are not fake, but represent very real, licensed pharmacies, ones that require valid prescriptions and have been safely helping Americans afford medication for years. We know this because these pharmacies have been carefully evaluated, inspected, and monitored by us at PharmacyChecker.com, and meet high standards of pharmacy practice. See our standards: http://www.pharmacychecker.com/verification_program_guide_and_standards_1_3.pdf.

The online pharmacies targeted by Bing, which are approved in our program, are all located outside the U.S. Curtailing online access to lower cost and safe foreign medication using scare tactics is a strategy employed by the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, Bing’s action seems to have a lot to do with stopping safe personal drug importation and will recklessly alarm Americans so they don’t buy more affordable medication from other countries.

Here is the warning which appears when a consumer’s Bing search results include links to one of these online pharmacies and they try to click on the link to that online pharmacy:

FDA Online Pharmacy Warning

To choose the pharmacies it targets, Bing is relying on a list of online pharmacies which have received warning letters from the FDA. But, in at least several cases, these warning letters, which you can find on the FDA’s website, do not indicate a pharmacy to be fake, nor do they pertain to sales of counterfeit or adulterated medications, nor to any problems with the pharmacy meeting good standards of practice. Instead they relate to 1) sales of lawfully manufactured generic versions of drugs that are still on patent in the U.S., and 2) medications that are approved in Canada but not in the U.S. We will examine each of these letters fully over the next week, but our initial review indicates that these issues have been addressed by the online pharmacies in our Verification Program that received the letters.

The genesis of Bing’s action, which is most likely coordinated with the FDA, comes from the scare tactics about foreign medications conceived by pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying largesse. Why else would Bing decide to target only online pharmacies when many other pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufactures, and dietary supplement distributors have also received FDA warning letters for various infractions, yet Bing does not target them with its pop-up warning?

Bing’s actions would be great if the websites it is targeting were all fake or rogue online pharmacies, but they are not. When consumers see Bing’s warning, they will likely do one of three things:

  1. Keep searching for another online pharmacy that charges a price they can afford. They may find one of the tens of thousands of rogue pharmacy websites that don’t require a prescription (but are not included on FDA’s new list) and buy from that one. Then they are far more likely to end up with a counterfeit drug.
  2. Go to their local big chain pharmacy and pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars more for their prescribed medication. The Warning has a link to “safe online health purchases” but those take you to U.S. online pharmacies only, which are often the websites of the big chain pharmacies!
  3. Not take their prescription medication at all. Thirty-five million Americans each year already forgo prescribed medication due to cost.

These are horrible outcomes. Yes, warning Americans about rogue online pharmacies is good public policy. But leading Americans away from safe personal drug importation will just lead to fewer people getting medications they need, more Americans choosing between food and medicine, and larger profits for the big drug companies.

For those interested in a full policy analysis of FDA’s current campaign, please see our report called: “Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.”

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