A cross-industry body that will make it easier for web sites selling fake drugs to be shut down is forming in the US, led by Google and Go Daddy.
The idea for the currently nameless organization was announced yesterday following a series of meetings between the internet industry and White House officials.
The group will “start taking voluntary action against illegal Internet pharmacies” which will include stopping payment processing and shutting down web sites.
The domain name business is represented by the three biggest US registrars – Go Daddy, eNom and Network Solutions – as well as Neustar (.biz, .us, etc) on the registry side.
Surprisingly, VeriSign (.com) does not appear to be involved currently.
Other members include the major credit card companies – American Express, Visa and Mastercard – as well as PayPal and search engines Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
According to a statement provided by Neustar:
GoDaddy and Google took the lead on proposing the formation of a private sector 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that would be dedicated to promoting information sharing, education, and more efficient law enforcement of rogue internet pharmacies.
It’s early days, so there are no specifics as yet as to how the organization will function, such as under what circumstances it will take down sites.
There’s no specific mention of domain names being turned off or seized, although reading between the lines that may be part of the plan.
There’s substantial debate in the US as to what kinds of pharmaceuticals sites constitute a risk to health and consumer protection.
While many sites do sell worthless or potentially harmful medications, others are overseas companies selling genuine pharma cheaply to Americans, who often pay a stiff premium for their drugs.
The organization will do more than just shut down sites, however.
It also proposes an expansion to white lists of genuine pharmacies such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies’ Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS).
And it will promote consumer education about the “dangers” of shopping for drugs online, as well as sharing information to stop the genuine bad guys “forum shopping” for places to host their sites.
This is what the statement says about enforcement:
The organization’s members agree to share information with law enforcement about unlawful Internet pharmacies where appropriate, accept information about Internet pharmacies operating illegally, and take voluntary enforcement action (stop payment, shut down the site, etc.) where appropriate.
While taking down sites that are selling genuinely harmful pills is undoubtedly a Good Thing, I suspect it is unlikely to go down well in that sector of the internet community concerned with the US government’s increasing role in removing content from the internet.
ICANN has declined an invitation from the Obama administration to attend a meeting tomorrow to discuss ways to crack down on counterfeit drugs web sites.
The meeting, first reported by Brian Krebs, was called with an August 13 invitation to “registries, registrars and ICANN” to meet at the White House to talk about “voluntary protocols to address the illegal sale of counterfeit non-controlled prescription medications on-line.”
It also follows a series of reports from security firms that called into question domain name registrars’ willingness to block domains that are used to sell fake pharma.
ICANN tells me that, following talks with White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, it was agreed that it would “not be appropriate” for ICANN to attend.
The decision was based on the fact that ICANN’s job is to make policy covering internet names and addresses, and not to regulate the content of web sites.
ICANN’s vice president of government affairs for the Americas, Jamie Hedlund, said the meeting was “outside the scope of our role as the technical coordinator of the Internet’s unique identifiers.”
I suspect it also would not have looked great on the global stage if ICANN appeared to be taking its policy cues directly from the US government rather than through its Governmental Advisory Committee.
Demand Media-owned registrar eNom, which has took the brunt of the recent criticism of registrars, recently signed up to a service that will help it more easily identify and terminate domains used to sell counterfeit medicines.