Amazon warns sellers on listings that make false coronavirus claims

Amazon is removing listings from its online marketplace that claim to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The company notified third-party merchants this week that it was taking down listings claiming to be a treatment, cure or remedy for the coronavirus, according to an email obtained by CNBC.

It comes as the coronavirus outbreak has continued to worsen. The coronavirus has spread to more than two dozen countries, infecting more than 75,700 people and killing at least 2,130, as of Thursday.

Last week, CNBC reported that Amazon was one of several tech giants that met with the World Health Organization at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. offices to discuss how to stop misinformation about the coronavirus on their platforms. Bad actors have attempted to make money off of fears around the coronavirus. On Amazon, sellers have offered books that stoke fears about the virus, while vitamin C products have increasingly surfaced because of false reports it can cure the coronavirus.

Now, Amazon appears to be cracking down on mentions of the coronavirus in products listed on its marketplace. In one case, Amazon told a seller it would remove their listing for a surgical face masks because it made “unapproved medical marketing claims.” As of Thursday afternoon, the product was available for purchase on Amazon. The company told third-party sellers it would consider reinstating the flagged listings if they removed the “prohibited medical claims.”

Here’s an example of an email Amazon is sending to sellers who list products making claims about curing the coronavirus:

Hello from Amazon,

We are writing to let you know that the following detail pages have been removed from our catalog:

This product has been identified as a face mask or related product that makes unapproved medical marketing claims regarding coronavirus or the flu. 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

We took this action because this product is not permitted for sale on Amazon.com. It is your obligation to make sure the products you offer comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and Amazon’s policies.

Users in Facebook groups for Amazon sellers have shared similar stories of warnings they received from Amazon this week.

Although Amazon has taken steps to remove some listings mentioning the coronavirus, CNBC conducted a few quick searches and found several examples of products that appeared to flout these rules, including disinfectant sprays and cleaners that claimed to “kill” the coronavirus. One listing claimed it met the Center for Disease Control’s criteria “for use against the coronavirus.”

Representatives from Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

The products represent the latest issue for Amazon’s marketplace. The marketplace, which now accounts for more than half of Amazon’s overall sales, has also been proven to host counterfeit, unsafe and even expired goods. Amazon’s marketplace is made up of millions of sellers who offer products, new and used, from all over the world that they purchase from official distributors, flea markets and clearance aisles.

Amazon has said previously it invests heavily to prevent the sale of counterfeits and has zero tolerance for sellers who violate its policies.

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