Many of the millions who shop on Amazon see it as if it were a big-box store, a retailer with goods deemed safe enough for customers. But in reality, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market that exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, The Wall Street Journal reports in a lengthy investigative story.
The Journal found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon’s site that have either been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Of the 4,152 products identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.
After the listings were brought to Amazon’s attention, 57% of the had their wording altered or were taken down. The company use uses automated tools to screen would-be sellers and block suspicious ones and removed three billion items in 2018, an Amazon spokeswoman says.
However, Amazon’s struggle to police its site adds to the mounting evidence that America’s tech giants have lost control of their massive platforms—or decline to control them.
Lawmakers have begun calling for more regulation of the companies. Courts have begun challenging the firms’ interpretation of their legal protections, and regulators are scrutinizing them.
Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law—Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there. Read the full story.