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)

UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper

41 Pages Posted: 25 May 2018

See all articles by Chris Jay Hoofnagle

Chris Jay Hoofnagle

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - School of Information

Ibrahim Altaweel

Good Research; University of California, Santa Cruz, Students

Nathaniel Good

University of California, Berkeley - School of Information

Date Written: December 1, 2016

Abstract

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

Hoofnagle, Chris Jay and Altaweel, Ibrahim and Good, Nathaniel, Online Pharmacies and Technology Crime (December 1, 2016). 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), UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3180380

Chris Jay Hoofnagle (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

341 Berkeley Law Building
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
‭(510) 666-3783‬ (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://hoofnagle.berkeley.edu

University of California, Berkeley - School of Information ( email )

212 South Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600
United States
510-643-0213 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://hoofnagle.berkeley.edu

Ibrahim Altaweel

Good Research ( email )

828 San Pablo Ave
Suite 120D
ALBANY, CA CA 94706
United States

HOME PAGE: http://manip.io

University of California, Santa Cruz, Students ( email )

1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA
United States

Nathaniel Good

University of California, Berkeley - School of Information ( email )

102 South Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600
United States

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