The Sad Tale of How Feds Helped a Crook Cost Some Helpful People a Half a Billion Bucks

A sadly morality-free tale from the June issue of Wired called "Drugstore Cowboy" about how the federal government helped get someone demonstrably out to cheat and harm other people out of jail quicker by supporting him on a complicated multi-month program trying to entrap some helpful people at Google into doing what Google does--selling ads and helping its customers.

Alas for Google, this help ended up costing the company half a billion bucks paid over to the federal government because the customer they were helping was apparently helping Americans buy drugs and medicines from overseas that the government has decided we can't buy unless a member of a protected guild (a "licensed physician") waves his magic pen over a piece of paper on our behalf.

It's a sordid and terrible tale, told well enough, but without the moral dudgeon--against the Feds and for Google--that it deserves. In fact, the reporter Jake Pearson even seems to think we should be upset about Google over this.

We shouldn't be. The federal government's behavior over this was gross, and that it cost Google that insane amount of money is a crime. That the whole procedure involved helping out a guy with a career of trying to defraud people at the expense of a company that has done an enormous amount at no cost to all of us to make our lives better makes it even more disgusting.

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  • ||

    Actually, I think you can use a regular pen, but it has to be a magical piece of paper.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    It's all magic, Nicole. All of it!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The difference between a Government and a criminal conspiracy is largely illusory.

  • Brandybuck||

    Government is not a conspiracy. It's just a bunch of people acting under the common belief that they are qualified to rule others. The problem with conspiratards is that they think government is bad only because it sometimes does stuff in secret.

    A 100% open and transparent government would still be government, and must be limited and constrained.

  • Dweebston||

    But Google collects data about its users and then sells that data to marketers who target ads at those people. Isn't that the true crime?

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    The true crime is more basic: selling stuff to willing customers without the government's permission.

  • Brandon||

    ...the government has decided we can't buy unless a member of a protected guild (a "licensed physician") waves his magic pen over a piece of paper on our behalf.

    Light the Groovus signal!

  • The Real Jose||

    "as the editor of this story (and the exec editor of WIRED), I can assure you that none of Google's competitors played any role in placing this story in our pages. as for it going online the same day as I/O, that's honestly a coincidence..."

    That doesn't pass the laugh test. He was replying to this:

    "Yea another hatchet job from Wired bringing the old issue back to spread FUD, courtesy of Google competitor's PR firm together with competitors employee/shill/astroturf commenting an anti-Google sentiment. Preempting any excitement coming from Google I/O. Typical black propaganda stuff."

  • Agammamon||

    This sort of thing drives me crazy - I have a moderate case of hypothyroidism and need hormone supplements, supplements that cost maybe $30ish a month. It costs me as much to go see a doctor every 6 months for a blood screening (to adjust the level of hormone, a simple thing - the doctor reads the hormone level and says take a larger or smaller pill for the next 6 months - *I* can do that) and pay for the prescription service.

    If not for that I could order the stuff myself and pay a private lab to measure my T3/4 levels.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Agammamom,

    There are private pharmacies that will supply Synthroid and T3, sans script. They work. For now, anyway. Caveat emptor.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Reich couldn’t deny a growing sense of curiosity. Like many prosecutors, he had a crusading impulse, and the chance to go after the almighty Google was too juicy to dismiss.

    Crusading impulse? More like poaching impulse. Prosecutors want heads on their wall and will do what it takes to get them up there.

  • np||

    We shouldn't be. The federal government's behavior over this was gross, and that it cost Google that insane amount of money is a crime. That the whole procedure involved helping out a guy with a career of trying to defraud people at the expense of a company that has done an enormous amount at no cost to all of us to make our lives better makes it even more disgusting.

    So when can we start arresting government agents? Google should hire militarized security guards for their data centers and send out mercenaries to telcom locations for protection.

    "You can entrap all you want, but we will continue to provide a service people want and we will arrest anyone trying to interfere and use deadly force if necessary"

    /my fantasy

  • NeonCat||

    Return a 404 screen whenever anyone from a .gov address tries to Google something.

  • Robert||

    Now that I've read the article (interesting, well written), my tentative conclusion is that Google could've avoided legal trouble simply by not having ostensible policies of screening out ads for illegal services. As long as applications were automatically sent thru with no questions asked, they could always have honestly pled ignorance. Only by having ostensible screening policies and then people working to circumvent them did they run into trouble.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Their anti-gun shopping annoys me strikes me as a related problem. I could understand not allowing illegal guns (machine guns in some states, etc) or not allowing illegal sales (direct shipment to certain states), but they don't even allow firearms accessories.

    What else do they also censor? Will they some day refuse to report sell t-shirts with gun company names? I won't use their shopping system any more for that reason, just don't trust them to be reporting all the results.

    Should have just stayed above the fray, except where legality required specific actions.

  • buybuydandavis||

    An article at Reason *finally* questions why we have to ask permission from an agent of the state to buy medicine. It's about time.

  • SIV||

    It's Doherty. He doesn't get invited to DC cocktail parties.

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