In a Tuesday letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, the Massachusetts Democrat lambasted the retail giant for “practices that mislead consumers about COVID-19 prevention or treatment.” She demanded the company explain search algorithms that return books promoting conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine disinformation in the top results.
Warren said her staff searched Amazon for terms like “COVID-19,” “COVID,” “vaccine,” “COVID 19 vaccine” and “pandemic” only to find that the top results “consistently included highly-ranked and favorably-tagged books based on falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and cures.”
One book mentioned in the letter is “The Truth About Covid-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal,” which was co-written by a doctor whom experts have widely called out for spreading misinformation.
That author, Dr. Joseph Mercola, was issued a warning letter by the Food and Drug Administration in February for selling vitamin supplements on his website that he falsely claimed were effective against the coronavirus.
As of Thursday morning, Mercola’s book was still the first to come up on Amazon in a search for “covid-19 vaccine,” though it was featured below a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that implores users to “learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.”
Despite the CDC link, Warren said, “the results of my staff’s review are nevertheless deeply troubling,” and as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Amazon is “potentially leading countless Americans to risk their health and the health of their neighbors based on misleading and inaccurate information that they discover on Amazon’s website.”
She requested the company conduct an “immediate review of Amazon’s algorithms” within 14 days to clarify “the extent to which Amazon’s algorithms are directing consumers to books and other products containing COVID-19 misinformation,” and to put in place a “plan to modify these algorithms so that they no longer do so.”
Warren said it was the second time in six months that she has had to write Amazon about misinformation on the site. In March, she shared “concerns that the company is providing consumers with false and misleading information about FDA-authorized KN95 masks.”
“This pattern and practice of misbehavior suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products — an unethical, unacceptable, and potentially unlawful course of action from one of the nation’s largest retailers,” she wrote.
An Amazon spokesperson told HuffPost via email that the company is “constantly evaluating the books we list to ensure they comply with our content guidelines, and as an additional service to customers, at the top of relevant search results pages we link to the CDC advice on COVID and protection measures.”
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