By Jeff Amy
JACKSON – Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is again asking Google to do more to prevent people from using the search engine to find illegal drugs and pirated videos, music and games.
Hood, as chairman of the intellectual property committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, has dogged the Internet giant for most of 2013. He said Google does not adequately respond to his concerns, and he hasn’t ruled out suing the company.
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., says it’s investing tens of millions of dollars to combat the problems Hood is worried about. Hood, though, said Google continues to refuse meaningful talks with him and other attorneys general.
In a Nov. 27 letter to Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, Hood said the online search and advertising giant is falsely claiming that changes are technically impossible.
“Although Google claims to be interested in cooperating with state attorneys general, it is unwilling to take basic actions to make the Internet safe from unlawful and predatory conduct, and it has refuse to modify its own behavior that facilitates and profits from unlawful conduct,” Hood wrote.
The letter came after Hood, a Democrat, tried to persuade Google to meet with the attorneys general association last week in New Orleans.
“In my 10 years as attorney general, I have dealt with a lot of large corporate wrongdoers,” Hood wrote. “I must say that yours is the first I have encountered to have no corporate conscience for the safety of its customers, the viability of its fellow corporations or the negative economic impact on the nation which has allowed your company to flourish.”
Hood and other attorneys general raised concerns earlier this year that Google made it too easy to buy drugs online without a prescription. The online giant took steps to make it harder, for example, disabling auto-complete functions that led people to illegal drug sites.
Google paid $500 million to the federal government in 2011 to settle claims over ads sold to pharmacies that were illegally shipping drugs into the United States. Hood sent a copy of his letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and said in a phone interview last week that he would like the U.S. Justice Department to get involved.
In his letter, Hood demanded that Google:
— Tailor search results to make websites providing illegal goods or services disappear or appear much lower.
— Program its auto-complete function to prevent suggestions related to illegal activity.
— Promote sites authorized to provide content, including possibly giving them an icon in search results.
— Not sell ads to illegal businesses.
The company has said it has worked to combat piracy and illegal drug sales. But it also said it doesn’t want to intrude on free expression.
“We do not remove content from search globally except in narrow circumstances, like child pornography, certain links to copyrighted material, spam, malware, and results that contain sensitive personal information like credit card numbers,” Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, wrote in 2010. “Specifically, we don’t want to engage in political censorship.”
Hood discounts that claim, noting Google removed Nazi-related content in Germany, where it’s illegal. He also said when Google is allowing its autocomplete function to suggest unlawful acts or selling ads to people engaged in criminal behavior, the company can’t be shielded by the Communications Decency Act. That law provides protection to Internet providers who publish information provided by others.