Platform Blues
August 25, 2019 12:10 PM   Subscribe

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc.’s site that have 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. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children. Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products [WSJ, may be paywalled; additional related articles below] posted by chavenet (41 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Previous submish got nuked due to paywall but maybe this will help this time.)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:44 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


I work in the FMCG industry and Amazon is rife with counterfeits to the extent we have an entire department of lawyers who trawl it buying product from various sellers and then sending them off for testing to make sure people aren't ingesting what they think is safe but is in fact just some shitty counterfeit with something toxic mixed in.
posted by PenDevil at 12:55 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


Whatever.
Do you really need a warning label for balloons?
posted by davebarnes at 12:57 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


It looks to me like the wrong Amazon is burning down.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:04 PM on August 25 [52 favorites]


Found the third party seller.

Seriously, though, what a weird take. Unlabeled balloons is one example of many. What could possibly be your motivation for ignoring all of the other examples so you could pretend it's just about unlabeled balloons?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:07 PM on August 25 [40 favorites]


Do you really need a warning label for balloons?

An average of 2 children under 4 die per year in the US from choking on latex balloons, more than any other non-food product.

I didn't know that. Now I know that, I'll be more careful when I see children near balloons, and make sure they don't put them near their mouths. That's the point of a warning label, right?
posted by ambrosen at 1:18 PM on August 25 [42 favorites]


At one point in 2013, some Amazon employees began scanning randomly selected third-party products in Amazon warehouses for lead content, say people familiar with the tests. Around 10% of the products tested failed, one says. The failed products were purged, but higher-level employees decided not to expand the testing, fearing it would be unmanageable if applied to the entire marketplace, the people familiar with the tests say. Amazon declined to comment on the episode.

So cool and inspiring to see the 3.6 Roentgen Guy From Chernobyl's career is back on track
posted by theodolite at 1:21 PM on August 25 [37 favorites]


No part of this is surprising, but I’m glad it has been reported on.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:28 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


I thought there was a hubbub about Chinese lead candy (common in the old days, lead is sweet) back when the "melamine baby formula" story was the daily concern. I guess it was wrist-slaps all around on that one.
posted by rhizome at 1:31 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


However, I do like the idea of Amazon collapsing under its own weight, even if just a little. The internet must be chastised in a meaningful way at some point.
posted by rhizome at 1:32 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Before reading the article, I thought that they'd be amiss to not mention eBay, as there are problems with restricted items being sold there, too (eBay Community forum). Except Amazon's online sales is 36.5% of online retail in 2018, versus eBay at 6.9%, and more than half of paid units are sold by 3rd party sellers (Statista), who are increasingly coming from oversees sellers.

Plus, they're housing 3rd party sellers' goods in their warehouses, which definitely shifts the liability back to Amazon, compared to eBay.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


It looks to me like the wrong Amazon is burning down.

Me: dear god. Please destroy ICE and Amazon

God: yo I gotchu

God: *melts ice caps and starts burning the rainforest*

Me: wait no
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:06 PM on August 25 [141 favorites]


Johnny Wallflower: that is truly awful and truly hysterical...
posted by captain afab at 2:18 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I thought that they'd be amiss to not mention eBay

Also, eBay is expected to be a flea market, so you kind of know that it's a bad idea to get safety-critical items from there. Amazon is trying to be a department store with all of the expectations that entails.
posted by suetanvil at 2:28 PM on August 25 [20 favorites]


Of course, this couldn't possibly be an aspect of the Trump-Murdoch axis campaign against Bezos because the Washington Post is the only major national newspaper willing to tell certain truths about Trump, I suppose.

Not that it isn't a significant and worthwhile story, but you will look long and hard to find another initiative from the Murdoch WSJ that tries to hold an American business accountable for exposing people to toxic chemicals, and I think it's important to recognize that the larger purpose of this story is to intimidate Bezos into muting criticism of Trump, and that if it succeeds, it will result in the opposite of its apparent aim, and vastly greater numbers of Americans and other nationalities will be exposed to toxic chemicals as Trump continues to gut almost all environmental regulations — the deregulation of chloropyrifos alone will probably do greater harm to children than the sum total of all the toxic products available on Amazon, for example.
posted by jamjam at 2:36 PM on August 25 [15 favorites]


@jamjam: I'm not sure you need to have political motivation to want to point out the public safety risks of a vendor that's willing to sell absolutely anything to anyone, managed only by a poorly-written algorithm. Or, rather, I'd hope that it wouldn't require an ulterior motive before you cared about this issue.
posted by krisjohn at 2:47 PM on August 25 [13 favorites]


Jeff Bezos is wracked with guilt for every faulty motorcycle helmet he sells but he steels himself knowing that this is the only way he can destroy Trump with an unprecedented Ten Pinocchios Fact Check
posted by theodolite at 2:50 PM on August 25 [35 favorites]


Let's not panic. It's possible both for jamjam to be correct and for Amazon to be a scourge.
posted by klanawa at 3:20 PM on August 25 [12 favorites]


If you read the article, they had a pilot project to scan and check for warning signs of dangerous materials automatically, but they shelved it over profit concerns. The woman who ran that program and left is interviewed. Target and Wal-Mart offer third party sellers with pre-sales checks for safety by comparison.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:34 PM on August 25 [10 favorites]


eBay is expected to be a flea market, so you kind of know that it's a bad idea to get safety-critical items from there

I dunno. For a lot of stuff, I have better luck getting used professional equipment off ebay, instead of new consumer garbage from Amazon. I recently bought a Welch Allyn blood pressure monitor and a Masimo Radical-7 pulse oximeter off ebay, and they've been solid. (Do note these are diagnostic, not therapeutic, so they're not going to directly injure me if they malfunction. I probably wouldn't buy an infuser off ebay, unless I was going use it to water my office plants or something.)

This is also true of a lot of electronic test equipment. 20-30 year old lab equipment from HP can be a lot nicer than cheap no-name Chinese equipment on Amazon. The biggest downside is the old stuff tends to be physically large and heavy.
posted by ryanrs at 3:48 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


ingesting what they think is safe but is in fact just some shitty counterfeit with something toxic mixed in

could you elaborate? Is this like, spiking “all natural male enhancement” with ‘roids or a “fat loss formula” with speed?
posted by schadenfrau at 4:06 PM on August 25


In general, Amazon has become rife with shoddy, counterfeit merchandise, mostly shipped from China and environs. At the same time, FaceBook is filled with ads that can only be fraudulent: supplements that supposedly can make you lose weight without diet or exercise, bracelets that make you feel warmer or cooler, fancy clothes for $30 a pop. Amazon and FaceBook want the money without the responsibility of vetting anyone. Sooner or later, this has to bite them in the ass.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:13 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


I order stuff from eBay specifically to avoid Amazon, and have been annoyed several times when the shipment was from Amazon anyway. I now check the vendors much more carefully.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:32 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]


"Amazon and FaceBook want the money without the responsibility of vetting anyone. Sooner or later, this has to bite them in the ass."
Let me know when it starts biting TV, radio, & print media, & the advertising & PR industries in general. Then I'll start worrying about online.
posted by Pinback at 4:35 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Maybe the most telling thing about Amazon is how purposefully obscured it frequently is whether or not you're buying from them or buying through them.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:39 PM on August 25 [35 favorites]


you will look long and hard to find another initiative from the Murdoch WSJ that tries to hold an American business accountable for exposing people to toxic chemicals

The “Murdoch WSJ” exposed Theranos at significant personal cost to Murdoch himself. Their opinion section is crap, but their business investigative reporters are stellar.
posted by sallybrown at 4:40 PM on August 25 [24 favorites]


Through this, I discovered that Novamin is not actually banned in US toothpastes, which I feared, but is just not actually marketed here. At least for the moment, you can still get European Sensodyne from Amazon. I absolutely want everybody else's safety put ahead of my ability to get this toothpaste, but I was a little nervous, since ordering foreign toothpaste always seemed like kind of a shady thing to be doing.
posted by Sequence at 4:53 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I don’t know about toothpaste, but I definitely avoid beauty and hair products sold through Amazon, especially anything on the fancier or specialty side. There are sellers with hundreds of good reviews who seem responsible and yet the “NARS lipstick” or whatever they’re selling turns out to be a not-even-somewhat-convincing fake.
posted by sallybrown at 5:03 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Whatever.
Do you really need a warning label for balloons?


Content warning: one of the most upsetting things I ever heard anybody say.

I did a “first aid for parents” course with a pediatrician, mostly focused on choking. We did a ton of different exercises on the various Heimlich Maneuvers for children of different ages; which foods and objects present particular hazards and how to deal with them; etc. The pediatrician’s advice for a kid that had inhaled part of a burst latex balloon was to sit with them, cuddle them and comfort them as they died, as apparently there is nothing at all you can do to clear the obstruction.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:47 PM on August 25 [52 favorites]


Good god. That is terrifying.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:31 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


So what's the most dangerous thing you've bought on Amazon?

I'll go first:

A quart of 32% hydrochloric acid that fumed when I opened it.
posted by ryanrs at 7:39 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


[Not that I argue with the idea of 32%HCl being a little intimidating but I don’t think it’s unusual to have fumed on opening. I prefer to use my HCl stock in the fume hood....]
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:08 PM on August 25


Canadian here, boosting the Novamin mention. Since moving to the states and learning the sad and horrible state of dental products here, we've been importing all our toothpaste, so we can still have Novamin (and, well, no cavities). It's proven easiest and cheapest to do so via Amazon, as it turns out there's plenty of commonwealth pharmacies that sell it in the US store to make a few extra dollars. If you're American and don't know about this, switch toothpaste. It's magic. Teeth shouldn't be optional bones.
posted by foxtongue at 10:05 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Similarly, Etsy is an absolute nightmare of untested and unlabelled artisan ally made children's toys. According to a safety testing outfit I work with (UK), the makers will often call up, find out how much testing costs, and then never call back. The one upside is often they then realise that none of their competitors have done this testing or labelling, and in a fit of pique rat them out to the relevant government agencies.

Of course under years of Tory rule, there is no longer any money for local government to send teams round to shops etc picking out samples to test, so this has ended up being an especially useful source for them...
posted by ominous_paws at 10:56 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


to return to a previous theme, i stopped purchasing anything mission-critical from amazon after i noticed both bottles of lube in an order from an apparently-reputable vendor had mysteriously tampered-with caps.

i've since stopped buying anything at all from them, since their business practices are wildly unethical and i decline to participate in that, but even if you don't feel that way, please don't use them for things you put on or in your body, just to be safe.
posted by halation at 11:05 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


"Amazon and FaceBook want the money without the responsibility of vetting anyone. Sooner or later, this has to bite them in the ass."

So Amazon is Napster for stuff, then.
posted by jon1270 at 3:15 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I once bought a cheap violet laser that was advertised as "one watt", fully expecting it to be the usual breathless exaggeration of the normal regulation friendly model that should be less than a hundredth of that. It turns out that Amazon actually delivers when it comes to lasers that can blind people at 100 metres.
posted by Eleven at 4:14 AM on August 26 [14 favorites]


is to intimidate Bezos into muting criticism of Trump,

Name one person at WaPo besides Farentholdt and Sullivan (and she's more focused on criticizing the media but at least she gives the impression of understanding the urgency of the moment) who's doing any more serious investigation or criticism of Trump than is happening at NYT or CNN or NPR or USA Today or Teen Vogue.

Trump has idiosyncratic beef with Bezos but it's because he perceived Bezos as possessing masculine coded qualities he lacks in himself, not because WaPo is some kind of threat to him.
posted by PMdixon at 8:20 AM on August 26


The Post is generally more substantive than CNN (also Bezos? Masculine coded qualities?)

But otherwise yeah, asserting that "the larger purpose of this story is to intimidate Bezos into muting criticism of Trump" needs substantiation, and even if it were explicitly proven to be the case, Amazon is still selling a shitload of products that dodge normal regulatory channels.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:01 AM on August 30


also Bezos? Masculine coded qualities?

Relative to Trump, yes, especially as perceived by Trump: brains and being actually a billionaire.
posted by PMdixon at 5:51 AM on August 30


And having the guts to shave a balding head.
posted by rhizome at 12:42 PM on August 30 [1 favorite]


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