Online Pharmacies and Technology Crime
Hoofnagle et al., Online Pharmacies and Technology Crime, in The Handbook of Technology, Crime and Justice (Michael McGuire and Thomas J. Holt, eds.)(Routledge Press 2016)
41 Pages Posted: 25 May 2018
Date Written: December 1, 2016
Online pharmacies are businesses that sell prescription-controlled drugs over the internet. Some online pharmacies operate illegally in the United States, by providing controlled pharmaceuticals without a prescription, and some pharmacies sell controlled substances. Online pharmacies are also a major driver of other kinds of computer crime because in order to gain consumers’ attention, pharmacies and their marketers send tremendous volumes of spam email and engage in other tactics that involve computer intrusions, such as the creation of botnets.
Online pharmacies are both an enduring technology crime challenge, and a lens for understanding cybercrime. This chapter introduces the problem of illegal online pharmacies and the intense law enforcement efforts to end their operation. To provide background for the cybercrime challenge presented by online pharmacies, the chapter explains the methods that such businesses use to promote their visibility in organic search engine results. The methods used to promote online pharmacies show that they have dynamics similar to retail-style businesses, where a firm needs to reach a large number of customers.
This chapter also presents data from an empirical experiment examining how pharmacies achieve top-ranked status in U.S.-based, English-language search engine results. In our sample, over a third of the inbound links to pharmacies in top search results appear to be from hacked websites. In analyzing links among the pharmacies, we find that online pharmacies are highly concentrated, often employing shared infrastructure (such as phone numbers).
We conclude with a discussion of opportunities for U.S. law enforcement to address pharmacies directly instead of pursuing intermediaries, and consider whether pharmacies can be liable for illegal search engine optimization techniques used to promote their sites. Because online pharmacies’ infrastructure is so interdependent, minor, targeted law enforcement interventions could disrupt a large number of the most successful online pharmacies. Online pharmacies’ operation thus contradicts popular libertarian narratives that the internet is an ungovernable medium.
Keywords: CDA, DMCA, internet intermediaries, opioids, "Canadian pharmacies," CFAA
JEL Classification: K14, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation