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Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

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Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 1
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆

So for those who don't know, Google's pharma policy automation is severely broken, and has been for going on three years now. If you've ever tried to advertise a pharma or supplement product, you've run into this; a product gets automatically disapproved and there is no ability to request a manual review, when you call support they say that there's nothing they can do, it's broken and the engineers are working on it, try putting in a new ID, title, and description. Same thing again and again for three years, with no progress.

 

And we're not talking obscure or gray area products here, I have one client who has had a ceramic neti pot disapproved for three years straight, and we have changed everything and tried stripping it down to a title and description of only "Ceramic Neti Pot". After going back and forth with support many times, it came to light that Google runs all supplement products through the site LegitScript.com. The problem is that this is not actually a service that LegitScript performs! They don't evaluate ingredients, they evaluate individual products, with the end result being that Google disapproves things like multivitamins and B vitamins because some other product made by another manufacturer in another country has some kind of local issue.

 

What happens is that Google will run an ingredient through LegitScript.com. What LegitScript does is return a list of individual products that contain that ingredient and notes whether they have any legal flags. Again, this is not evaluating the ingredient itself, it is only looking at the very narrow sampling of products that LegitScript has, and since their main business is policing online pharmacies and they flag supplement products as an aspect of that, their archive is mostly some of the most problematic supplements in the industry. But Google doesn't care, all they see is that that ingredient triggered a flag on LegitScript, regardless of the relationship to the actual product Google is evaluating.

 

I finally got some specific examples from the policy team, and every single example was a blatant mistake caused by LegitScript. The policy folks said that our clients digestion supplement was disapproved because it contains Betaine HCl, which they say is strictly prohibited. The only correct part of this statement is that the supplement contains Betaine HCl. Checking LegitScript, which they cited as the reason for the disapproval, I found three products from other manufacturers containing Betaine HCl that had been flagged, not my clients product.

 

Of those that had been flagged for Betaine HCl, they had all been flagged in Japan, because Japan has a different set of pharmaceutical laws. Everywhere else in the world, this product is legal. My client does not market their products in Japan, or Asia at all. Also, one of those exact banned products is the very first listing that comes up in Google Shopping when you search for Betaine HCl. The reason those three products had been red flagged in Japan is because those three products contained an ingredient BESIDES Betaine HCl, Pepsin, and that ingredient, not Betaine HCl, is what is actually regulated in Japan.

 

So to recap, because some of another company's products, which have different ingredients than ours, are banned on the other side of the world in a country we do not market or sell to for an ingredient not present in our product, we are not allowed to sell our product on Google Shopping.

 

And this has been going on for years. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and Bodybuilding.com alone could be worth millions of advertising dollars for Google all on their own. And it prevents almost the entire supplement and nutrition industry out of Google's advertising network. So why on Earth has Google maintained this relationship for so long knowing how broken it is and how damaging it is to not only their clients but to their own profits as well?

2 Expert replyverified_user

Re: Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

Top Contributor
# 2
Top Contributor
for product-listing-ads, this has been true for quite some time; google
is unlikely to change their heathcare related policies in this regard.

about the only allowed u.s. exception, for very specific product
areas, is to be vipps certified and then approved by google, both.

Re: Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

Follower ✭ ✭ ✭
# 3
Follower ✭ ✭ ✭
Remember, Google also has a lot to lose on the pharmacy end. Their pharma policies are confusing and opaque, but they've been sued by the US Government before and ended up paying a LOT of money. Google has decided to err on the side of caution -- even when it seems like they're leaving legitimate money on the table.

Re: Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 4
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
While I certainly see Google's need to protect themselves from any liability, I don't believe the US government has ever brought a suit against Google related to supplements and it would be very hard to given the current laws surrounding them. On top of that, there has to be a better way for them to handle this, especially after years of it being a known issue. Bodybuilding.com has a very strict policy about what kinds of supplements they carry and stay well away from anything gray area legally or likely to get banned in the future. If they are able to do it, there is simply no reason Google shouldn't be able to. Hell, I've often wondered why Google doesn't partner with Bodybuilding.com to fix their policy automation. At the very least, they should have been able to apply a manual override on their end by this point, the fact that they are powerless in the face of their own algorithm is shocking. Also, I have run into the scenario of a distributor selling one of our clients products that is perpetually disapproved with the exact same image, title, description, and landing page copy; somehow they are getting past the automation, and because of Google's inability to fix it after years of complaints this has meant that my clients competitors have been given a significant market advantage using my clients own products against them.

Re: Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

Top Contributor
# 5
Top Contributor

@Spike M;

I think that the issue is a broader one, and its roots are (deeply grounded) in the history of the relationship  between  Google and regulators (i.e. Mainly the FDA), about selling pharma products or supplements with  "healing" "properties" online, without full disclosure by the  manufacturer about risks (associated).  Due to the high level of scrutiny  by regulators, Google prefers to err than to be penalized.... Smiley Surprised

LegitScript, to my recollection, was the first business offered a comprehensive source about the risks  of using supplements or other  products containing active pharmaceutical ingredients (aka API). Since then, Google relies on it, and I think other resources (also) partner with them (e.g. safemed online).

 

Moshe, AdWords Top Contributor , Twitter | Linkedin | Community Profile | Ad-Globe
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Re: Why does Google partner with LegitScript when it is breaking their Pharma policy automation?

Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
# 6
Explorer ✭ ✭ ☆
The FDA would have a very hard time coming after Google, they have to definitively prove that a supplement is dangerous to take it off the market and then go after someone for selling it, and then they have to prove that they knew the ingredient was dangerous. So when it comes to supplements, maybe Google needs to segment those out. For false claims, that falls into the realm of the FTC unless they are claiming to treat a disease, but Google has a general policy against false and misleading claims for all their advertising so that's not a reason for the much more draconian and problematic pharma and supplement automation.

For the pharmaceutical side of things, that is obviously more closely regulated. But that is a separate industry, and I don't see why Google doesn't treat it as such. Even if the FTC or FDA came down a particular supplement or manufacturer for making misleading claims, that still doesn't open up Google to liability since they were not the ones making the claims; otherwise you would have seen every single health and fitness magazine and website go down every time a fad supplement turned out to be bunk or got slapped with an FDA ban (like ephedra did).

As far as LegitScript, they may be the first but when it comes to supplements and their ingredients their lists are far from comprehensive. And regardless, Google is misusing their service for something it is not intended or equipped for, but it's their advertisers that end up getting hurt by it.