The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on Amazon and eBay over products claiming to kill coronavirus, a novel strain of which causes the deadly disease covid-19. The crackdown is a grim reminder that products attempting to manipulate concerned consumers remain available for sale despite the apparent efforts of online marketplaces to scrub them from their sites, and the responsibility has unfortunately fallen on consumers to be sceptical of any such products.
The EPA announced the crackdown on “unregistered or misbranded pesticides and pesticide devices” Thursday, adding that some of the pesticides in question are marketed with “false or misleading claims” about their potential to “kill” the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or covid-19. Some of the listings cited by the EPA claims included language like “epidemic prevention,” “coronavirus disinfectant,” and “complete sterilization including the current pandemic virus.” Bloomberg first reported on the orders to stop the sale of these pesticide products.
“These stop sale orders to Amazon and eBay demonstrate the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to protecting the health and safety of Americans,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, said in a statement. “We remain vigilant against the claims of producers that falsely assert their efficacy and safety. Of particular concern are products that falsely claim to be effective against COVID-19. It is our duty to continue transparent communication with the public on unregistered products that may cause injury to consumers, and immediately remove them from commerce.”
In a statement by email, an Amazon spokesperson said that it was “removing the products in question and are taking action against the bad actors who listed them.”
“Amazon requires that sellers provide accurate information on product detail pages and put processes in place to proactively block inaccurate claims about COVID-19 before they are published to our store,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve also developed specific tools for COVID-19 that run 24/7 to scan the hundreds of millions of product detail pages for any inaccurate claims that our initial filters may have missed. Collectively, our efforts have blocked more than 6.5 million products.”
A spokesperson for eBay told Gizmodo the company has been in contact with the agency and supports its effort.
“Our priority at eBay remains ensuring the safety of our customers and employees around the world,” the spokesperson said. “Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have taken significant measures to block or quickly remove items from our marketplace that are unsafe, make false health claims or violate our zero-tolerance price gouging policy.”
Amazon has long-grappled with keeping misleading or unauthorised products from its site, particularly during the pandemic. Back in February, the company banned more than 1 million products that claimed to protect against or cure covid-19 or coronavirus as it also worked to get a handle on egregious price-gouging amid unprecedented demand for things like masks and hand sanitizer. This week, Bloomberg separately reported that a shortage of some of these items on Amazon during the height of the pandemic may have been in part caused by third-party sellers pulling the products from the site over fears they would be accused of price-gouging and kicked off the marketplace.
“Our objective is to protect customers from clearly egregious price increases,” an Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg. “If a seller believes we’ve made an error, we encourage them to reach out to us directly and we will investigate the matter.”