Federal safety regulators are getting tough with Amazon, which for years has sidestepped demands that it recall hazardous or counterfeit products sold on its website.
The hands-off policy basically echoes the standard applied to content sites, which are protected from legal liability by the telecommunications law passed by Congress.
But today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) threw down the gauntlet, filing an administrative complaint against Amazon, trying to force it to accept responsibility for recalling potentially hazardous products sold on its site.
“Today’s vote to file an administrative complaint against Amazon was a huge step forward for this small agency,” said Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “But it’s a huge step across a vast desert — we must grapple with how to deal with these massive third-party platforms more efficiently, and how best to protect the American consumers who rely on them.”
While many consumers think of Amazon as an online store, one that sells its products on the web instead of from a brick-and-mortar location, Amazon more closely resembles a flea market, where just about anyone can set up a card table and start selling their wares.
While Amazon is the seller of some items, the majority – more than half in recent years – come from third-party merchants, who can be giant retailers or someone working out of the second bay in their garage.
This creates a quality-control problem that has plagued Amazon's consumers for years, although criticisms and complaints have largely rolled off Amazon's back.
The CPSC's complaint doesn't just deal in generalities. It lists specific products that it says are defective and pose a risk of serious injury or death to consumers and says that Amazon is legally responsible for recalling them.
The products named in the action include
- 24,000 faulty carbon monoxide detectors that can fail to work;
- numerous children’s sleepwear garments that are in violation of the flammable fabric safety standard; and
- nearly 400,000 hair dryers sold without the required immersion protection devices that protect consumers against shock and electrocution.
The complaint seeks to force Amazon to stop selling the products, work with CPSC staff on a recall of the products and to directly notify consumers who purchased them about the recall and offer them a full refund.
Although Amazon has taken some actions, the complaint charges that those actions are insufficient.
CPSC urges consumers to visit SaferProducts.gov to check for recalls prior to purchasing products and to report any incidents or injuries to the CPSC.