Amazon is removing items listed by third-party marketplace sellers that claim to be a treatment, remedy, cure, for the Coronavirus or somehow prevent a person from becoming infected by the virus, or kill the virus.
A seller in the Amazon Seller Community forums claims he received an email from Amazon explaining his listing was removed because“…This product has been identified as a face mask or related product that makes unapproved medical marketing claims regarding Coronavirus…”
Further, the email said, “Products that make medical marketing claims may not be legally marketed in the U.S. without prior review and approval by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Amazon policy prohibits the listing or sale of products that are marketed as unapproved or unregistered medical devices.”
CNBC also reported Amazon recently sent out an email to marketplace sellers about its policy regarding products that suggest they may offer to kill, prevent, or remedy the Coronavirus.
From the CNBC report, it appears Amazon is trying to keep third-party sellers from profiting on non-substantiated claims using the Coronavirus term.
The crackdown on third-party sellers marketing products that make dubious claims is understandable. On the surface, it appears to be socially responsible and good business.
But, a search on Amazon with the keyword “Coronavirus” surfaces products that range from survival guides, religious interpretations, training and face masks, vitamin products, disinfectants, etc.
Many top results are books which are generally protected by the first amendment. Although Amazon does occasionally take action against books that spread hate or misinformation, the company usually stays away from being a censor on content and thought.
But what about some of the other products the search result surfaced?
Amazon Double Standard?
Amazon took the stance that a seller listing a face mask and suggesting it may help spread the Coronavirus is in violation of its terms because the item is not approved or reviewed by the FDA for that purpose.
Yet, it appears acceptable to Amazon to show similar products that do not make such claims in the listing.
Are the product in the search results not an indirect suggestion by Amazon that these products may help a person from becoming infected from or are a remedy to the Coronavirus?
Even more interesting is that Amazon’s search results are suggesting vitamins and immune-boosting products which the FDA has limited authority to review for effectiveness.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”FDA Website
The search results also included Emergen-C, a popular Vitamin C supplement. Ironically, claims about Vitamin C being a shield for the Coronavirus have been debunked, yet this and similar products show up in the search.
In general, the effectiveness of supplements is controversial as is, which is why the FDA has product labeling requirements for supplements that downplay the marketing hype. Of course, that is assuming buyers actually read them!
This begs the question, what social responsibility does Amazon have when it comes to its search results? Especially in this case, with so much misinformation and fake news about the Coronavirus outbreak already making people jittery.
Amazon taking action against products that make false claims to prevent or remedy the Coronavirus is commendable.
However, it seems the company takes a less cavalier approach to its search results, especially when the many of the listings themselves make no mention of the term Coronavirus.
Methodology Note: To minimize skewed search results, the search was performed on February 25, 2020, in a Chrome browser in Incognito mode, not logged into an Amazon count, located in the United States. The same search was repeated in other browsers under the same conditions on multiple devices, and all resulted in similar search results.
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