- Four online marketplaces, including Amazon and eBay have signed a Product Safety Pledge committing to the faster removal of dangerous products from their listings, according to a press release from the European Commission (EC). The agreement pertains to all types of illegal content. Included in its definition of "dangerous products" is terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, unsafe products and copyright infringement, the press release said.
- The main purpose of the agreement is that the four companies agreed to respond to notifications by member states of the EC about dangerous products within two working days, and take action on customer complaints within five working days.
- The other two companies involved in the agreement are China's Alibaba, acting on behalf of its AliExpress online marketplace, and Rakuten-France, which was formerly known as the PriceMinister marketplace before its acquisition by Japan's Rakuten. The agreement came as a result of a dialogue facilitated by the EC, the governing entity of the 28-member European Union (EU).
Large online marketplaces have long struggled to control problematic content, especially counterfeit and knockoff product listings. Now, with four of the largest marketplaces making a joint agreement with the backing of a major governmental entity, the EC, there is teeth behind the verbiage. It's uncertain whether a similar agreement can be reached with the current U.S. government, or whether the EC Product Safety Pledge will have global impact, but it does appear to at least be a start in addressing the problem.
Counterfeits have run rampant in online marketplaces:In fact, a recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that 43% of online purchases made by staff turned out to be fake merchandise. Daimler AG, which owns the Mercedes-Benz brand, sued Amazon last fall for that reason, citing "the sale of an exorbitant number of counterfeit and infringing goods," and "a lack of effective regulation."
In early 2017, Birkenstock USA pulled its products from Amazon citing concerns over counterfeiting and unauthorized selling, although its shoes are now back at Amazon. Amazon has filed lawsuits against sellers of counterfeit goods, and Alibaba has also been criticized for not doing enough to control counterfeit products on its platforms. Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, has said counterfeits were the "cancer" of that e-commerce site.
Besides agreeing to shorter time frames for taking action on complaints, the four online marketplaces have also committed to providing a clear way for customers to notify the marketplaces about dangerous product listings, taking steps to prevent the reoccurrence of dangerous product listings that have been removed and giving sellers information and training on compliance, according to the press release.
The agreement also calls for the online marketplaces and the EC to review progress that has been made on the commitments every six months, and publish a report.
"E-commerce has opened up new possibilities for consumers, offering them more choice at lower prices," Vĕra Jourová, EU commissioner of justice, consumers and gender equality, said in a statement. "Consumers should be just as safe when they buy online, as when they buy in a shop."