Criticism of Amazon
Amazon.com has attracted criticism from multiple sources, where the ethics of certain business practices and policies have been drawn into question. Amazon has also faced numerous allegations of anti-competitive or monopolistic behavior.
- 1 Anti-competitive practices
- 2 Treatment of workers
- 3 Treatment of consumers
- 4 Competitive advantages
- 5 Product availability
- 6 Other legal action
- 7 Amazon reviews
- 8 WikiLeaks hosting
- 9 Human rights abuses
- 10 Amazon data center bugging by Chinese spies
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The company has been controversial for its alleged use of patents as a competitive hindrance. The "1-Click patent" is perhaps the best-known example of this. Amazon's use of the one-click patent against competitor Barnes & Noble's website led the Free Software Foundation to announce a boycott of Amazon in December 1999. The boycott was discontinued in September 2002. On February 22, 2000, the company was granted a patent covering an Internet-based customer referral system, or what is commonly called an "affiliate program". Industry leaders Tim O'Reilly and Charlie Jackson spoke out against the patent, and O'Reilly published an open letter to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, protesting the 1-click patent and the affiliate program patent, and petitioning him to "avoid any attempts to limit the further development of Internet commerce". O'Reilly collected 10,000 signatures with this petition. Bezos responded with his own open letter. The protest ended with O'Reilly and Bezos visiting Washington, D.C. to lobby for patent reform. On February 25, 2003, the company was granted a patent titled "Method and system for conducting a discussion relating to an item on Internet discussion boards". On May 12, 2006, the USPTO ordered a re-examination of the "One-Click" patent, based on a request filed by actor Peter Calveley, who cited the prior art of an earlier e-commerce patent and the Digicash electronic cash system.
Amazon has a Canadian site in both English and French, but until a ruling in March 2010, was prevented from operating any headquarters, servers, fulfillment centers or call centers in Canada by that country's legal restrictions on foreign-owned booksellers. Instead, Amazon's Canadian site originates in the United States, and Amazon has an agreement with Canada Post to handle distribution within Canada and for the use of the Crown corporation's Mississauga, Ontario shipping facility. The launch of Amazon.ca generated controversy in Canada. In 2002, the Canadian Booksellers Association and Indigo Books and Music sought a court ruling that Amazon's partnership with Canada Post represented an attempt to circumvent Canadian law, but the litigation was dropped in 2004.
In January 2017, doormat products with the Indian flag on them went on sale on the Amazon Canada website. The use of the Indian flag in this way is considered offensive to the Indian community and in violation of the Flag code of India. The Minister of External Affairs of India Sushma Swaraj threatened a visa embargo for Amazon officials if Amazon didn't tender an unconditional apology and withdraw all such products.
In January 2017, Amazon.ca was required by the Competition Bureau to pay a $1M penalty, plus $100,000 in costs, over pricing practices for failing to provide "truth in advertising" according to Josephine Palumbo, the deputy commissioner for deceptive marketing practices. This fine was levied because some products on Amazon.ca were shown with an artificially high "list price", making the lower selling price appear to be very attractive, producing an unfair competitive edge over other retailers. This is a frequent practice among some retailers and the fine was intended to "send a clear message [to the industry] that unsubstantiated savings claims will not be tolerated". The Bureau also indicated that the company has made changes to ensure that regular prices are more accurately listed.
In March 2008, sales representatives of Amazon's BookSurge division started contacting publishers of print on demand titles to inform them that for Amazon to continue selling their POD-produced books, they were required to sign agreements with Amazon's own BookSurge POD company. Publishers were told that eventually, the only POD titles that Amazon would be selling would be those printed by their own company, BookSurge. Some publishers felt that this ultimatum amounted to monopoly abuse, and questioned the ethics of the move and its legality under anti-trust law.
In 2008, Amazon UK came under criticism for attempting to prevent publishers from direct selling at discount from their own websites. Amazon's argument was that they should be able to pay the publishers based on the lower prices offered on their websites, rather than on the full recommended retail price (RRP).
Also in 2008, Amazon UK drew criticism in the British publishing community following their withdrawal from sale of key titles published by Hachette Livre UK. The withdrawal was possibly intended to put pressure on Hachette to provide levels of discount described by the trade as unreasonable. Curtis Brown's managing director Jonathan Lloyd opined that "publishers, authors and agents are 100% behind [Hachette]. Someone has to draw a line in the sand. Publishers have given 1% a year away to retailers, so where does it stop? Using authors as a financial football is disgraceful."
In August 2013, Amazon agreed to end its price parity policy for marketplace sellers in the European Union, in response to investigations by the UK Office of Fair Trade and Germany's Federal Cartel Office . It is not yet clear if this ruling applies to direct selling by publishers.
Following the announcement of the Apple iPad on January 27, 2010, Macmillan Publishers entered into a pricing dispute with Amazon.com regarding electronic publications. Macmillan asked Amazon to accept a new pricing scheme it had worked out with Apple, raising the price of e-books from $9.99 to $15. Amazon responded by pulling all Macmillan books, both electronic and physical, from their website (although affiliates selling the books were still listed). On January 31, 2010, Amazon "capitulated" to Macmillan's pricing request.
In 2014, Amazon and Hachette became involved in a dispute over agency pricing. Agency pricing is when the agent (such as Hachette) determines the price of a book; normally, however, Amazon dictates the discount level of a book. High-profile authors became involved; hundreds of writers, including Stephen King and John Grisham, signed a petition saying "We encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage." At the heart of the dispute is Amazon's practice of discounting books so low that authors and publishers are unable to earn a profit.[not in citation given] Author Ursula K. Le Guin commented on Amazon's practice of making Hachette books harder to buy on its site, stating "We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author." Although her statement was met with some outrage and disbelief, Amazon's actions such as eliminating discounts, delaying delivery time, and refusing pre-publication orders did make physical Hachette books harder to get. Plummeting sales of Hachette books on Amazon indicated that its policies likely succeeded in deterring customers.
On August 11, 2014, Amazon removed the option to preorder Captain America: The Winter Soldier in an effort to gain control over online pricing of Disney films. Amazon has previously used similar tactics with Warner Bros. and Hachette Book Group. The conflict was resolved in late 2014 with neither having to concede anything. Then in February 2017, Amazon again began to block preorders of Disney films, just before Moana and Rogue One were due to be released to the home market.
Removal of competitors' products
On October 1, 2015, Amazon announced that Apple TV and Google Chromecast products were banned from sale on Amazon.com by all merchants, with no new listings allowed effective immediately, and all existing listings removed effective October 29, 2015. Amazon argued that this was to prevent "customer confusion", as these devices do not support the Prime Video ecosystem. This move was criticized, as commentators believed that it was meant primarily to suppress the sale of products deemed as competition to Amazon Fire TV products, given that Amazon itself had deliberately refused to offer software for its own streaming services on these devices, and the action contradicted the implication that Amazon.com was a general online retailer.
In May 2017, it was reported that Apple and Amazon were nearing an agreement to offer Prime Video on Apple TV, and allow the product to return to the retailer. Prime Video launched on Apple TV December 6, 2017, with Amazon beginning to sell the Apple TV product again shortly thereafter.
Amazon has since suppressed other Google products, including Google Home (which competes with Amazon Echo), Pixel phones, and recent products of Google subsidiary Nest Labs (despite the Nest Learning Thermostat having integration support for Amazon's voice assistant platform Alexa). In retaliation, Google announced on December 6, 2017 that it would block YouTube from the Amazon Echo Show and Amazon Fire TV products. In December 2017, Amazon stated that it intended to start offering Chromecast again, but as of July 2018[update], it has not actually done so. Meanwhile, Nest stated that it would no longer offer any of its future stock to Amazon until it commits to offering its entire product line. In April 2019, Amazon announced that it would add Chromecast support to the Prime Video mobile app and release its Android TV app more widely, while Google announced that it would, in return, restore access to YouTube on Fire TV (but not Echo Show).
Treatment of workers
Amazon has faced various critiques over the quality of its working environments and treatment of its workforce. A group known as The FACE (Former And Current Employees) of Amazon has regularly used social media to disseminate criticism of the company and allegations regarding negative work conditions.
Opposition to trade unions
Amazon has opposed efforts by trade unions to organize in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2001, 850 employees in Seattle were laid off by Amazon.com after a unionization drive. The Washington Alliance of Technological Workers (WashTech) accused the company of violating union laws, and claimed Amazon managers subjected them to intimidation and heavy propaganda. Amazon denied any link between the unionization effort and layoffs. Also in 2001, Amazon.co.uk hired a US management consultancy organization, The Burke Group, to assist in defeating a campaign by the Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU, now part of Unite the Union) to achieve recognition in the Milton Keynes distribution depot. It was alleged that the company victimized or sacked four union members during the 2001 recognition drive and held a series of captive meetings with employees.
Warehouse conditions in the US
In September 2011, Allentown, Pennsylvania's Morning Call interviewed 20 past and present employees at Amazon's Breinigsville warehouse, all but one of whom criticized the company's warehouse conditions and employment practice. Specific investigatory concerns were: heat so extreme it required the regular posting of ambulances to take away workers who passed out, strenuous workloads in that heat, and first-person reports of summary terminations for health conditions such as breast cancer. The Morning Call also published, verbatim, Amazon.com's direct response to a query by OSHA, where amazon.com detailed its response when heat conditions reach as high as 114 °F (46 °C), including water and ice treatment, electrolyte drinks, nutrition advice, and extended breaks in air conditioned rooms. Five days after the Morning Call article was published, Amazon stated that it had spent $2.4 million "urgently installing" air conditioning at four warehouses including the Breinigsville facility. However, the original investigator states that when he checked back with current employees for his September 23 follow-up story, "they told him nothing had changed since his original story ran."
In June 2012, Amazon began the installation of a $52 million investment in cooling its warehouses around the country, a major cost for the company equivalent to 8.2 percent of Amazon's 2011 total earnings. Experts speculated Amazon made such a massive investment either to dampen negative publicity over worker conditions, and/or to better protect goods in the warehouse such as food and electronics equipment.
- "Amazon ships a lot of electronics and food now. It's not good to have that stuff in extreme temperatures," said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research. "I would like to think there was an element of humanity to the decision but there's nothing in Amazon's history or in Jeff Bezos' public persona that would lead me to think that was the driver of the decision. … Rarely has Amazon made any business decisions that didn't affect the bottom line."
In December 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously against temporary staffing workers for Amazon warehouses in Nevada who were seeking compensation for time spent waiting to go through security screening checkpoints.
Warehouse conditions in the UK
Complaints about Amazon's Marston Gate UK facility date back to 2001. prompting a threatened protest from Billy Bragg. These claims resurfaced in 2008 with fresh reports of "sweatshop conditions".
On 2 August 2013 the Daily Mail ran an exposé outing Amazon UK for employee GPS "tagging" and subjecting them to harsh working conditions, describing employees as "human robots", the newspaper said that Amazon employed "controversial" zero-hour contracts as a tool to reprimand staff. A Channel 4 documentary broadcast on the 1st August 2013 employed secret cameras within Amazon UK's Rugeley warehouse documenting worker abuses and made similar claims to the Daily Mail, calling the working practices 'horrendous and exhausting'.
In November 2016 a BBC undercover report at Amazon's delivery depot in Avonmouth found that in some instances delivery drivers had no choice but to break the speed limit and use their van as a toilet to save time. It also exposed that after deductions (such as van hire and insurance) drivers could be paid as little as £2.59 per hour, less than half the UK minimum wage.
In December 2016 Willie Rennie, the Liberal Democrat leader in Scotland, said that Amazon should be ashamed of both its working conditions and pay in Dunfermline after photographs were released showing workers camped outside in the winter to save the cost of commuting.
In December 2017, it was reported that Amazon drivers in the U.K. are making less than the national minimum wage because they have to pay for van hire and insurance and did not have enough time to deliver the parcels that were ordered forcing them to urinate in plastic bottles in their vans.
Working conditions for delivery drivers
A September 11, 2018 article exposed poor working conditions for Amazon's delivery drivers, describing a variety of alleged abuses, including missing wages, lack of overtime pay, favoritism, intimidation, and time constraints that forced them to drive at dangerous speeds and skip meals and bathroom breaks.
2018 Workers strike
Spanish unions have called on 1,000 Amazon workers to strike starting on July 10 and expected to last through Amazon Prime Day, with calls for the strike to be seen all across the world, and for customers to follow suit. The strike based in Spain will be timed around Prime Day, with a representative of the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) union said complaints were based on wage cuts, working conditions, and restrictions on time off. However, other European countries have other raised greivences, with Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and France all being represented and shown below.
- Poland workers claim an anti-strike law has made it impossible to negotiate a better salary.
- German workers have been fighting for over two years for a collective bargaining agreement.
- Italian workers have highlighted claims that Amazon routinely hires contract workers who aren't required to have benefits.
- Spanish Amazon leadership have unilaterally imposed working conditions when previous collective bargaining agreements had expired.
- English and French Amazon leadership have imposed demanding measures on time and efficiency leading to workers expected to process 300 items per hour and pee in bottles, with penalties being given for sick days and pregnancies.
Stop BEZOS Act
On September 5, 2018, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA-17) introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act aimed at Amazon and other alleged beneficiaries of corporate welfare such as Walmart, McDonald's, and Uber. This followed several media appearances in which Sanders underscored the need for legislation to ensure that Amazon workers received a living wage. These reports cited a finding by New Food Economy that one third of fulfilment center workers in Arizona were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Although Amazon initially released a statement which called statistics such as this "inaccurate and misleading", an October 2 announcement affirmed that its minimum wage for all employees would be raised to $15 per hour.
Suicides and hunger strikes by Amazon employees
In 2014, a former Amazon employee Kivin Varghese committed hunger strike to change Amazon unfair policies.
In November 2016, Amazon employee jumped from the roof of headquarters office as a result of unfair treatment at work. 
In March 2019, Daily Beast reported abnormal level of suicides at Amazon warehouses.
Treatment of consumers
In September 2000, price discrimination potentially violating the Robinson–Patman Act was found on amazon.com. Amazon offered to sell a buyer a DVD for one price, but after the buyer deleted cookies that identified him as a regular Amazon customer, he was offered the same DVD for a substantially lower price. Jeff Bezos subsequently apologized for the differential pricing and vowed that Amazon "never will test prices based on customer demographics". The company said the difference was the result of a random price test and offered to refund customers who paid the higher prices. Amazon had also experimented with random price tests in 2000 as customers comparing prices on a "bargain-hunter" website discovered that Amazon was randomly offering the Diamond Rio MP3 player for substantially less than its regular price.
Kindle content removal
In July 2009, The New York Times reported that amazon.com deleted all customer copies of certain books published in violation of US copyright laws by MobileReference, including the books Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from users' Kindles. This action was taken with neither prior notification nor specific permission of individual users. Customers did receive a refund of the purchase price and, later, an offer of an Amazon gift certificate or a check for $30. The ebooks were initially published by MobileReference on Mobipocket for sale in Australia only—owing to those works having fallen into public domain in Australia. However, when the ebooks were automatically uploaded to Amazon by MobiPocket, the territorial restriction was not honored, and the book was allowed to be sold in territories such as the United States where the copyright term had not expired.
Author Selena Kitt fell victim to Amazon content removal in December 2010; some of her fiction had described incest. Amazon claimed "Due to a technical issue, for a short window of time three books were temporarily unavailable for re-download by customers who had previously purchased them. When this was brought to our attention, we fixed the problem..." in an attempt to defuse user complaints about the deletions.
Late in 2013, online blog The Kernel released multiple articles revealing "an epidemic of filth" on Amazon and other ebook storefronts. Amazon responded by blocking books dealing with incest, bestiality, child pornography as well as topics such as virginity, monsters, and barely-legal.
Sale of Wikipedia's material as books
The German-speaking press and blogosphere have criticized Amazon for selling tens of thousands of print on demand books which reproduced Wikipedia articles. These books are produced by an American company named Books LLC and by three Mauritian subsidiaries of the German publisher VDM: Alphascript Publishing, Betascript Publishing and Fastbook Publishing. Amazon did not acknowledge this issue raised on blogs and some customers that have asked the company to withdraw all these titles from its catalog. The collaboration between amazon.com and VDM Publishing was started in 2007.
The British consumer organization Which? has published information about Amazon Marketplace in the UK which indicates that when small electrical products are sold on Marketplace the delivered product may not be the same as the product advertised. A test purchase is described in which eleven orders were placed with different suppliers via a single listing. Only one of the suppliers delivered the actual product displayed, two others delivered different, but functionally equivalent products, and eight suppliers delivered products which were quite different and not capable of safely providing the advertised function. The Which? article also describes how the customer reviews of the product are actually a mix of reviews for all of the different products delivered, with no way to identify which product comes from which supplier. This issue has also been raised in evidence to the UK Parliament in connection with a new Consumer Rights Bill.
Items added onto baby registries
Tax avoidance in the US
Amazon has been criticized for its refusal to collect sales taxes from customers in states in which it does not have a physical presence, thus giving it a comparative advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers. Hypothetically, some such customers should pay the equivalent amount in use tax directly to their state; however, few customers do so.
Tax avoidance in Japan
In July 2009, the Tokyo National Tax Agency ruled that Amazon had to pay 14 billion yen ($119 million) in back corporate taxes, despite its operations in the country being formally represented by the U.S.-based subsidiary Amazon Int'l Sales, Inc. Amazon refused to acknowledge the tax debt, claiming Japan had no jurisdiction on Amazon, due to Amazon not having a physical presence or registered company in Japan.
Tax avoidance in the UK
It was reported in The Guardian, April 4, 2012, that Amazon generated more than £3.3bn of sales in the UK but paid no corporation tax at all on the profits, and that it was under investigation by the UK tax authorities. Amazon's tax affairs were also being investigated in China, Germany, France, Japan and Luxembourg.
In November 2012, the UK government announced plans to investigate Amazon.com, along with Starbucks and Google, for tax avoidance. Sky news reported that Amazon faced a temporary backlash and boycott from the general public and other businesses in the UK as a result. In 2014, children's book author Allan Ahlberg refused an Amazon sponsored literary award on the grounds that it was unethical since he felt that "...Amazon cheats by avoiding taxes".
Effects on small businesses
Due to its size and economies of scale, Amazon is able to out price local small scale shop keepers. Stacy Mitchell and Olivia Lavecchia, researchers with the Institute for local self-reliance argue that this has caused most local small scale shop keepers to close down in a number of cities and towns in the United States. Additionally, a merchant cannot have an item in the warehouse available to sell prior to Amazon if they choose to list it as well; monopolizing the product and price. Many times fraudulent charges have been made on the company banking and financial channels without approval; since Amazon prides itself on keeping all financial data permanently on file in their database. If they charge your account they will not refund the money back to the account they took it from, they will only provide an Amazon credit. All other credit card company disputes the funds are returned to the card; not to Dillard's where one bought a product from. Additionally, there is not any merchant customer support which at times needs to be handled in real time. If you are considering selling on Amazon "Merchant Beware!"
In 2013, Amazon secured a US$600 million contract with the CIA, which poses a potential conflict of interest involving the Bezos-owned The Washington Post and his newspaper's coverage of the CIA. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said, "It's a serious potential conflict of interest for a major newspaper like The Washington Post to have a contractual relationship with the government and the most secret part of the government." This was later followed by a US$10 billion contract with the Department of Defense.
The release of the Amazon Echo was met with concerns about Amazon releasing customer data at the behest of government authorities. According to Amazon, voice recordings of customer interactions with the assistant are stored with the possibility of being released later in the event of a warrant or subpoena. A police request for such data occurred during the investigation into the November 22, 2015 death of Victor Collins in the home of James Andrew Bates in Bentonville, Arkansas. Amazon refused to comply at first, but Bates later consented.
While Amazon has publicly opposed secret government surveillance, as revealed by Freedom of Information Act requests it has supplied facial recognition support to law enforcement in the form of the "Rekognition" technology and consulting services. Initial testing included the city of Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon. Amazon offered to connect Washington County with other Amazon government customers interested in Rekognition and a body camera manufacturer. These ventures are opposed by a coalition of civil rights groups with concern that they could lead to expansion of surveillance and be prone to abuse. Specifically, it could automate the identification and tracking of anyone, particularly in the context of potential police body camera integration. Due to the backlash, the city of Orlando has publicly stated it will no longer use the technology.
Headquarters bidding leverage
The announcement of Amazon's plan to build a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2, was met with 238 proposals, 20 of which became finalist cities on January 18, 2018. In November 2018, Amazon was criticized for narrowing this down to "the two richest cities", namely Long Island City and Arlington, Virginia which are in the New York metropolitan area and Washington metropolitan area respectively. Critics, including business professor Scott Galloway, described the bidding war as "a con" and stated that it was a pretext for gaining tax breaks and insider information for the company.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opposed the $1.5 billion in tax subsidies that had been given to Amazon as part of the deal. She stated that restoring the subway system would be a better use for the money, despite rebuttals from Andrew Cuomo and others that New York would benefit economically. Shortly afterward, Politico reported that 1,500 affordable homes had previously been slated for the land being occupied by Amazon's new office. The request by Amazon executives for a helipad at each location proved especially controversial with multiple New York City Council members decrying the proposal as frivolous.
Amazon at one time carried two cockfighting magazines and two dog fighting videos although the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) contends that the sale of these materials is a violation of U.S. Federal law and filed a lawsuit against Amazon. A campaign to boycott Amazon in August 2007 gained attention after a dog fighting case involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick. In May 2008, Marburger Publishing agreed to settle with the Humane Society by requesting that Amazon stop selling their magazine, The Game Cock. The second magazine named in the lawsuit, The Feathered Warrior, remained available.
Animal rights group Mercy for Animals has alleged that Amazon allows the listing of foie gras on its website, a product that has been banned in several countries followed by California, and alleged to be produced by the mistreatment of ducks. The listing promoted animal rights groups to launch a movement called "Amazon cruelty".
Items prohibited by UK law
In December 2015 the Guardian newspaper published an exposé of sales that violated British law. These included a pepper-spray gun (sold directly by amazon.co.uk), stun guns and a concealed cutting weapon (sold by Amazon Marketplace traders). All are classed as prohibited weapons in the UK. At the same time, The Guardian published a video describing some of the weapons.
An article published in the Czech weekly Tyden in January 2008 called attention to shirts sold by Amazon which were emblazoned with "I Love Heinrich Himmler" and "I Love Reinhard Heydrich", professing affection for the infamous Nazi officers and war criminals. Patricia Smith, a spokeswoman for Amazon, told Tyden, "Our catalog contains millions of items. With such a large number, unexpected merchandise may get onto the Web." Smith told Tyden that Amazon does not intend to stop cooperating with Direct Collection, the producer of the T-shirts. Following pressure from the World Jewish Congress, Amazon announced that it had removed from its website the aforementioned T-shirts as well as "I love Hitler" T-shirts that they were selling for women and children. After the WJC intervention, other items such as a Hitler Youth Knife emblazoned with the Nazi slogan "Blood and Honor" were also removed from Amazon.com as well as a 1933 German SS Officer Dagger distributed by Knife-Kingdom.
An October 2013 report in the British online magazine The Kernel had revealed that Amazon.com was selling books that defend Holocaust denial, and shipped them even to customers in countries where Holocaust denial is prohibited by the law.
That month, the World Jewish Congress called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to remove from its offer books that deny the Holocaust and promote anti-Semitism or white supremacy. "No one should profit from the sale of such vile and offensive hate literature. Many Holocaust survivors are deeply offended by the fact that the world’s largest online retailer is making money from selling such material," WJC Executive Vice President Robert Singer wrote in a letter to Bezos.
On March 9, 2017, the World Jewish Congress announced Amazon's compliance with the requests it and other Jewish organizations had submitted by removing from sale the Holocaust denial works complained of in the requests. The WJC offered ongoing assistance in identifying Holocaust denial works among Amazon's offerings in the future.
On November 10, 2010, a controversy arose over the sale by Amazon of an e-book by Phillip R. Greaves entitled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct.
Readers threatened to boycott Amazon over its selling of the book, which was described by critics as a "pedophile guide". Amazon initially defended the sale of the book, saying that the site "believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable" and that the site "supported the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions". However, the site later removed the book. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Amazon "defended the book, then removed it, then reinstated it, and then removed it again".
Christopher Finan, the president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, argued that Amazon has the right to sell the book as it is not child pornography or legally obscene since it does not have pictures. On the other hand, Enough Is Enough, a child safety organization, issued a statement saying that the book should be removed and that it "lends the impression that child abuse is normal". People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, citing the removal of The Pedophile's Guide from Amazon, urged the website to also remove books on dog fighting from its catalogue.
Greaves was arrested on December 20, 2010 at his Pueblo, Colorado home on a felony warrant issued by the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Lakeland, Florida. Detectives from the county's Internet Crimes Division ordered a signed hard copy version of Greaves' book and had it shipped to the agency's jurisdiction, where it violated state obscenity laws. According to Sheriff Grady Judd, upon receipt of the book, Greaves violated local laws prohibiting the distribution of "obscene material depicting minors engaged in harmful conduct", a third degree felony. Greaves pleaded no contest to the charges and was later released under probation with his previous jail time counting as time served.
American copyright lobbyists have accused Amazon of facilitating the sale of unlicensed CDs and DVDs particularly in the Chinese market. The Chinese government has responded by announcing plans to increase regulation of Amazon (along with Apple Inc. and Taobao.com) in relation to Internet copyright infringement issues. Amazon has already had to shut down third party distributors due to pressure from the NCAC (National Copyright Administration of China).
On October 16, 2016, Apple filed a trademark infringement case against Mobile Star LLC for selling counterfeit Apple products to Amazon. In the suit, Apple provided evidence that Amazon was selling these counterfeit Apple products and advertising them as genuine. Through purchasing, Apple found that it was able to identify counterfeit products with a success rate of 90%. Amazon was sourcing and selling items without properly determining if they are genuine. Mobile Star LLC settled with Apple for an undisclosed amount on April 27, 2017.
Removal of LGBT works
In April 2009, it was publicized that some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, feminist, and politically liberal books were being excluded from Amazon's sales rankings. Various books and media were flagged as "Adult content", including children's books, self-help books, non-fiction, and non-explicit fiction. As a result, works by established authors E. M. Forster, Gore Vidal, Jeanette Winterson and D. H. Lawrence were unranked. The change first received publicity on the blog of author Mark R. Probst, who reproduced an e-mail from Amazon describing a policy of de-ranking "adult" material. However, Amazon later said that there was no policy of de-ranking lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender material and blamed the change first on a "glitch" and then on "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that had affected 57,310 books (a hacker also claimed to have been the cause of said metadata loss).
Other legal action
Alleged trademark infringement
In 1999, the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative of Minneapolis, Minnesota sued amazon.com for trademark infringement. The cooperative had been using the name "Amazon" since 1970, but reached an out-of-court agreement to share the name with the on-line retailer.
In September 2009, it emerged that Amazon was selling MP3 music downloads falsely suggesting a well-known Premier League football manager was a child sex offender. Despite a campaign urging the retailer to withdraw the item, they refused to do so, citing freedom of speech. The company eventually decided to withdraw the item from their UK website when legal action was threatened. However, they continued to sell the item on their American, German and French websites.
Alleged release of personal details
In October 2011, actress Junie Hoang filed Hoang v. Amazon.com, a $1 million lawsuit against Amazon in the Western District Court of Washington, for allegedly revealing her age on the Internet Movie Database, which Amazon owns, by using personal details from her credit card. The lawsuit, which alleges fraud, breach of contract and violation of her private life and consumer rights, states that after joining IMDBPro in 2008 to increase her chance of getting roles, the actress claims that her legal date of birth had been added to her public profile, revealing that she is older than she looks, causing her to suffer a substantial decrease in acting work and earnings. The actress also stated that the site refused her request to remove the information in question. All claims against Amazon, and most claims against IMDB, were dismissed by Judge Marsha J. Pechman; the jury found for IMDb on the sole remaining claim. As of February 2015[update], the case against IMDb remains under appeal.
As the customer review process has become more integral to Amazon marketing, reviews have been increasingly challenged for accuracy and ethics. In 2004, The New York Times reported that a glitch in the Amazon Canada website revealed that a number of book reviews had been written by authors of their own books or of competing books. In response, Amazon changed its policy of allowing anonymous reviews to one that gave an online credential marker to those reviewers registered with Amazon, though it still allowed them to remain anonymous through the use of pen names. By 2010, a Social Shopping Study by retailing consultant Power Reviews reported that Amazon was the largest single source of Internet consumer reviews. In that year, a number of cases emerged that were related to the reliability of Amazon reviews. In April, the British historian Orlando Figes was found to have posted positive reviews of his own books and negative reviews of those of his colleagues. In June, a Cincinnati news blog uncovered a group of 75 Amazon book reviews that had been written and posted by a public relations company on behalf of its clients. The London Daily Mail reported in November on the acknowledged use of public relations firms to post Amazon reviews, and the cases of three authors whose books had been attacked through anonymous negative reviews by rivals. In June 2011, The Daily Mail reported on the no-longer hidden hiring of writers by marketing companies to write and post positive reviews of books and other products and services on Amazon and other websites. A study at Cornell University in that year asserted that 85% of Amazon's high-status consumer reviewers “had received free products from publishers, agents, authors and manufacturers.” By June 2011, Amazon itself had moved into the publishing business and begun to solicit positive reviews from established authors in exchange for increased promotion of their own books and upcoming projects.
Amazon.com's customer reviews are monitored for indecency, but do permit negative comments. Robert Spector, author of the book amazon.com, describes how "when publishers and authors asked Bezos why amazon.com would publish negative reviews, he defended the practice by claiming that amazon.com was 'taking a different approach...we want to make every book available – the good, the bad, and the ugly...to let truth loose'" (Spector 132). Allegations have been made that Amazon has selectively deleted negative reviews of Scientology-related items despite compliance with comments guidelines.
Following listing for sale of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson, a disparaging biography of Michael Jackson by Randall Sullivan, his fans, organized via social media as "Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks", bombarded Amazon with negative reviews and negative ratings of positive reviews.
On December 1, 2010, Amazon stopped hosting the website associated with the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks. Amazon did not initially comment on whether it forced the site to leave. The New York Times reported: "Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent of Connecticut, said Amazon had stopped hosting the WikiLeaks site on Wednesday after being contacted by the staff of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee".
In a later press release issued by Amazon.com, they denied that they had terminated Wikileaks.org because of either "a government inquiry" or "massive DDOS attacks". They claimed that it was because of "a violation of [Amazon's] terms of service", because Wikileaks.org was "securing and storing large quantities of data that isn't rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others."
Amazon's action led to a public letter from Daniel Ellsberg, famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war. Ellsberg stated that he was "disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility", likening it to "China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing", and he called for a "broad" and "immediate" boycott of Amazon.
In 2014, UK courts declared that Amazon had infringed trademark of Lush soap. The soap manufacturer, Lush, had previously made its products unavailable on Amazon. Despite this, Amazon advertised alternative products via Google searches for Lush soap.
Human rights abuses
Amazon has worked with the Chinese tech giant Hikvision. According to The Nation, "The United States has considered sanctioning the Chinese surveillance giant Hikvision, which has provided thousands of cameras that monitor mosques, schools, and concentration camps in Xinjiang."
Amazon data center bugging by Chinese spies
In 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Amazon and Apple were targeted by Chinese spies attempting to plant tiny microchips in their data centers. Chinese spies attempted to plant tiny microchips in the data centers of 30 major American companies, including Amazon and Apple, according to a Bloomberg investigation. Amazon reportedly discovered the issue in 2015 while researching an acquisition target, the video service firm Elemental. Bloomberg said Amazon alerted US authorities, who are still investigating. The hack is said to have sent a "shudder through the intelligence community." Amazon and Apple strongly rejected the findings, which Bloomberg said were based on conversations with 17 anonymous sources, including insiders at both tech giants.
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