It is not the seller and so can’t be responsible

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Amazon has shifted from something like a big-box store to something much more like a flea market:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on 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.

The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits.

Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.


Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there.


Third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon because their sales have exploded — to nearly 60% of physical merchandise sales in 2018 from 30% a decade ago, Amazon says. The site had 2.5 million merchants with items for sale at the end of 2018, estimates e-commerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon doesn’t make it easy for customers to see that many products aren’t sold by the company. Many third-party items the Journal examined were listed as Amazon Prime eligible and sold through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which generally ships items from Amazon warehouses in Amazon-branded boxes. The actual seller’s name appeared only in small print on the listing page.


In contrast, Walmart Inc. requires all products on store shelves be tested at approved labs, company documents show. Target says it requires suppliers of store-branded products to undergo additional inspections and testing beyond government standards.

Target and Walmart have created online marketplaces for third parties to sell directly to consumers. Target’s site, launched earlier this year with several sellers, is invitation-only. Walmart had around 22,000 sellers at the end of 2018, according to Marketplace Pulse. It requires an application that can take days for approval, and only a fraction of merchants applying make it through the vetting, says a person familiar with Walmart’s policy.


  1. Wilson says:

    Walmart is certainly not better, in my experience they don’t even guarantee delivery by 3rd party sellers, and good luck disputing a charge from Walmart on your credit card

  2. CVLR says:

    Expect to see a radical return to meatspace as a result of perfect-fidelity fake images, fake text, and fake products, beginning with the hipster segment and trickling down therefrom. There will be a tidal wave of legitimacy relocation. Everything on a screen will be regarded as real/fake, equally and simultaneously. And the failure of these apparently all-powerful Internet oligopolies to ensure authenticity on their platforms will have been their undoing.

    Invest in the stock of public spaces near you.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    Here’s my answer to the deepfake problem, and also the fake news problem: cryptographic signatures put in by the recording hardware.

    The tricky part will be getting a unique key pair into every device in a way that it can’t be altered. We might have to settle for a unique key pair per chip run.

  4. CVLR says:

    Harry Jones, this is one case in which the cure may very well be worse than the disease. For what is the world to be in which every computing device’s every action is uniquely signed and perfectly traceable… at the protocol layer? For there will be no opt-out: to the extent that society comes to depend on these enabling technologies, those who wish to live normally will be subject to the capture of the electronic traces of their lives. I would not be surprised if some intelligence services had not reverted to the use of typewriters and personal couriers. Battlestar Galactica.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Not at all. There’s nothing to stop anyone from stripping out the digital signatures, so long as he is willing to forfeit the privilege of claiming that his content is uncontestably genuine. This is currently the only option, but my scheme will add a second option: authenticated!

  6. CVLR says:

    I must confess: when I chance upon the words “there’s nothing to stop anyone from…”, the hairs on the back of my libertarian early warning system begin to bristle most emphatically. No man is an island; much of our lives are ruled not by our own perfect individual reason but by externalities gifted, or inflicted, upon us by others — our neighbors, our governors, our employers, our clients. It just isn’t enough to say that, theoretically, I, personally, can “opt out” of such-and-such unpleasant and undesirable contrivance; to have any meaning, the choice must be explicitly, and individually, opt-in. It is as impossible to secure one’s privacy in this age of surveillance capitalism as it is to: have a nice cityscape in a swamp of outsourcing and offshoring and addicts; to have a family in a moonscape of cads and sluts; enjoy high culture in a landscape of institutional satanic inversion.

    Most technologies centralize. Few decentralize, though those that do are often extraordinarily effective (e.g., the printing press and the rifle). Some decentralizing technologies may be suppressed.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    The externalities are always there, so that’s a wash. But having more options benefits those of us who see every externality as nothing more than another challenge to outwit.

    My quarrel with libertarians is they have no sound strategy for achieving their goals. I say freedom begins with an autonomy mindset. Expand your sphere of control outward from a center that is your own conscious will. When it pushes against someone else’s sphere of control, embrace managed conflict.

    Conflict is part of the structure of reality. It is the dynamism of nature. Civilized society is largely managed conflict.

    Another beef I have with libertarians is this arbitrary distinction between big business and big government. Government is as government does, and the labels don’t change that. The balance of power is the only reality. Feel powerless? Don’t waste time whining about it. Instead, think about how you can maybe get yourself some more power. Because power is only a problem when it’s not yours.

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