Amazon goes tough on misleading coronavirus health claims

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Amazon has removed more than one million products for marketing misleading claims on being able to protect consumers from the novel coronavirus, the company says.

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The online retailer is in the process of taking action — which includes suspending or banning accounts — against sellers that violate their Seller Code of Conduct, a statement from Amazon read.

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The company also said that it removed “tens of thousands of offers” of products suspected of price gouging — all amidst a global health crisis that has infected more than 88,000 people and killed at least 3,000 worldwide, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

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“Amazon has always required sellers provide accurate information on product detail pages and we remove those that violate our policies,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

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Amazon previously told third-party sellers on its platform that it was planning to take down products that claimed to either treat or cure the novel coronavirus, according to CNBC.

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The e-commerce company’s move to scrub its site comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern over the amount of false information spread about the virus in early February.

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Andrew Pattinson, WHO’s digital business solutions manager, met with Amazon at its headquarters in Seattle over listings on the site which claim to be cures for the coronavirus — claims the WHO and Pattinson debunked as fake, the BBC reported.

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Pattinson also met with tech companies in Silicon Valley over what the WHO called an “infodemic” of fake news on the outbreak.

Amazon’s removal of products with “artificially” raised prices comes at a time when basic commodities such as face masks and hand sanitizers are being resold at fees many times more than their usual amounts — all by sellers hoping to capitalize on mounting fears over the COVID-19 outbreak.

A Global News search for “coronavirus” on Amazon.ca shows several newly published books on coronavirus prevention and protection, as well as face masks, disinfectants and organic supplements that claim to protect against “bacteria, viruses and parasites.”

While Amazon did not provide a list or information on country-specific products that it removed from its site, several products listed on its Canadian site still show as being sold at prices way higher than average.

A 20-piece pack of face masks advertised as being n95 certified — a designation meaning that a mask can protect against at least 95 per cent of small airborne particles — was listed for CAD$105 while another pack of similarly functioning n95 masks was being sold for CAD$26.99 at a different retail shop.

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