When a technology platform exceeds a certain size, a now known phenomenon begins to develop. The makers no longer have a view on – or control over – all daily activities on the platform, so that bad actors can manipulate it for their own purposes.
On Twitter, this led to uncontrolled intimidation and abuse, many of which were aimed at women and minorities. On Facebook, it led to Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference in the 2016 elections. On YouTube, it led to an increase in extremist content, stimulated by algorithmic recommendations.
Last week, thanks to a great research in the Wall Street Journal, we saw how large Amazon has blinded for a large number of dangerous products made available by external sellers. Alexandra Berzon, Shane Shifflett and Justin Scheck found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon that have been declared unsafe or prohibited by federal regulators, or that have fraudulent labels. This included items that Amazon said it is forbidden – and dozens of them were labeled & # 39; Amazon's Choice & # 39 ;, based on the reviews, prices, and delivery time of an item, but probably many Amazon customers like affects an approval mark.
The findings of the report include:
• 116 products were falsely listed as "FDA approved", including four toys – the agency does not approve toys – and 98 eyelash serums that have never followed the drug approval process to be marketed as approved. (…)
• 80 entries corresponded to the description of sleeping wedges for babies that the FDA has warned may cause suffocation and Amazon has said it is prohibited.
• 52 listings were marketed as supplements with brand names for which the FDA and the Ministry of Justice have determined that they contain illegally imported prescription drugs. (…)
• The Journal analyzed 3,644 toy listings for federally required warnings of suffocation hazard. Regulators do not provide databases of toys that require the warning, so the Journal compared the Amazon listings with the same toy on Target.com and found that 2,324 or 64% of Amazon listings missed the warnings on the Target offers.
Why are there so many bad products on the platform? According to a former employee interviewed by the diary, Amazon & # 39; s desire to sell as many products as possible has always been given priority over security. In perhaps the most striking anecdote in the report, a former employee says the company has actively avoided testing some products for lead content:
At some point in 2013, some Amazon employees began scanning randomly selected third-party products in Amazon warehouses for lead content, people familiar with the tests say. About 10% of the products tested have failed, one says. The failed products were removed, but higher-level workers decided not to extend the tests, fearing it would be unmanageable if it were applied to the entire market, say the people familiar with the tests. Amazon declined to comment on the episode.
"Amazon will always allow more things to be available to customers by default," says Ms. Greer.
Amazon posted a huffy non-response to the diaryThe story, knocked on the back for spending $ 400 million on security programs & # 39; s in 2018 and named its compliance program & # 39; s & # 39; leading & # 39 ;.
That was not enough for a group of Democratic senators, who today wrote a letter to the company calling for an investigation. (Something to add to the & # 39;fire book, & # 39; Maybe.) The same trio of diary reporters report:
In their letter, the senators said, "Amazon is undoubtedly falling short of its commitment to protecting those consumers who use the huge platform … We believe it is essential for consumers to fully understand the safety of products they bring home."
And as my colleague Josh Dzieza reported today, Amazon can struggle to protect even its own products from scammers hijacking. He writes down The edge:
Amazon's marketplace is so chaotic that even Amazon itself cannot be hijacked. Amazon is not only a retail platform, but also sells its own private label products under names such as Amazon Basics, Rivet furniture, Happy Belly food and hundreds of other labels. Sellers often complain that these brands represent unfair competition, and regulators interest in this issue has been expressed in Europe and the United States. But other sellers seem to have found a way to use the Amazon brands for their own purposes. Amazon she promotes heavy, collecting thousands of reviews on offers that the company then leaves when it stops production or comes up with a new version. Enterprising sellers hijack these pages to sell their own goods.
Take this offer, before for one AmazonBasics HDMI cable. Amazon removed it and other mentions after it was contacted by The Verge, but before it was removed, it was used to sell two completely different alarm clocks: a "Warmhoming 2019 updated wooden digital alarm clock with 7-level adjustable brightness, display time date Week temperature for bedroom office at home & # 39 ;, and a white alarm clock that was not in stock.Strangely, that clock was listed as a second variety, color & # 39; Blackadaafgew & # 39; but the copy of the list referred to binoculars that & # 39; can help you see a clear face more than 200 meters away. & # 39; Many of the Amazon lists seem to be undergoing multiple hijackings.
The advantage of this is that some reviews about products from the Amazon brand do not even refer to the actual product being sold. It is an effect of the company that allows sellers to edit lists – a move that is meant to improve their accuracy, but that can lead to deception in practice.
To date, there has been little failure of Amazon errors in platform integrity. The diary tells a number of serious problems – including a man who died after purchasing a defective helmet – but so far we have not seen the kind of large-scale abuse that could cause indignation on the scale of Cambridge Analytica or YouTube radicalization.
Yet I am struck by other ways in which the Amazon experience matches that of Facebook. In both cases, growth was the top priority, and lax security proved to be a powerful accelerator for that growth. Two, the first answer to journalists' reports was to reject them. Three, those reports aroused the attention of the legislators, giving rise to the prospect of more serious intervention.
Amazon & # 39; s institutional deafness wonders if the company is ready for what is next. I suspect reporters will pay more attention to Amazon & # 39; s platform issues in the coming year, rather than less – and at the moment it is not at all clear that the company could guess what they could find.
I wrote about it on Tuesday a study that tried to show a "radicalization pipeline" on YouTube. The authors followed commentators over the course of time and showed that a considerable group of them migrated over time from garden variety to far-right channels. YouTube has contacted to say that it does not find the results very convincing.
Among other things, the company questions the methodology with which the researchers have created the three groups of channels that form its vision of radicalization. The methodology also relied on a desktop recommendation feature that is no longer in use, YouTube said.
"Although we welcome external research, this research does not reflect changes as a result of our hateful policy and recommendations updates and we strongly disagree with the methodology, data and especially the conclusions in this new study, & a spokesperson said.
The company also cited Pew research showing that YouTube tends to push users over time to more popular content rather than more party-specific content. Of course, more partisan content is often quite popular.
The research I wrote about this week was not the first suggestion that YouTube can push viewers to the limit. But other writing about the subject has largely relied on anecdotes. Here is a case where I would like to see more research, and soon. Let me know if you've seen something.
⭐ YouTube says it has reduced recommendations for false and extremist content by half in the UK. The recommendations are for what the company calls & # 39; borderline & # 39; content: videos & # 39; s that break the rules without crossing the line. Alex Hern reports in The Guardian:
YouTube is experimenting with an algorithm change to disseminate what the & # 39; borderline content & # 39; in the UK, after a comparable test in the US resulted in a significant decrease in the number of views.
According to the director of the video sharing site, Susan Wojcicki, the move is intended to give high-quality content "more a chance to shine" and has the effect of reducing views of recommendations with 50%.
Amazon ring cooperates with 400 police stations to build a surveillance network of the doorbell cameras & homeowners. (Drew Harwell / Washington Post)
The Knight First Amendment Center at Columbia University has requested Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to unblock her critics on Twitter. (Adi Robertson / The edge)
Valve is the creator of Steam, & # 39; the world's largest distribution platform for video games. The European Union has been touched Valve with antitrust charges, which the company intends to combat. (Foo Yun Chee / Reuters)
⭐ YouTube restored a prominent European white nationalist after he appealed. "White nationalist activist Martin Sellner and British YouTuber de Iconoclast" are back on the platform, reports Mark Di Stefano on BuzzFeed. It looks like a mistake and YouTube has said almost nothing about why the accounts have been deleted or why they have been restored.
Martin Sellner is the face of the pan-European Generation Identity movement, which has been organizing extreme right-wing anti-immigration stunts for several years. Last year, he was one of three extreme right-wing activists banned from entering Britain because the authorities considered their presence "not in the public interest".
His link with the presumed shooter in the shooting at the Christchurch mosque has recently been put in the spotlight. For the massacre, Sellner had frequent contact with him and he reportedly sent him a link to his YouTube channel. The suspect would & # 39; fantastic & # 39; have answered. According to the Guardian, Sellner has also used YouTube to upload German-language videos & # 39; s about the police investigation into his ties with the accused shooter.
Speaking of YouTube, Infowars sneaked back onto the platform and erroneously reported that the ban had been lifted – before YouTube removed it again. (Matthew Gault / Vice)
In better news for YouTube, A-list celebrities such as Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez start with vlogging. (Sophie Kleeman / Vice)
"The average user now spends around 45 minutes a day TapTok, more time than they even spend on Facebook. "(Ryan Holmes / Fast operation)
Oculus by Facebook co-founder Michael Antonov has been accused of groping a woman during the 2016 Game Developers Conference. He is no longer with the company.
Facebook rolls out the booking of appointments, the generation of leads and other business tools that it has announced this year at F8. (Sarah Perez / TechCrunch)
Facebook is testing an AI assistant for Minecraft with which you can stack blocks and perform other tasks. (MIT Technology Review)
FacebookThe privacy cafe pop-up has arrived in London. (Mike Murphy / Quartz)
The Journalism Trust Initiative is an attempt to develop industry-wide reporting standards. It now accepts feedback on its draft standards.
And finally …
As someone who once had modest dreams of becoming a theater sensation, I was happy to hear that today's teens are giving each other a taste of this experience with Instagram. This is holy as hell:
Shane and Lila are just two of the self-proclaimed & # 39; casting directors & # 39; in this small but thriving Instagram community, which usually consists of other young teenagers. A search by BuzzFeed News has revealed more than 800 accounts so far with the hashtag #fakecasting in 2019. To cast a show, they will post on their accounts what Broadway musical is in their "season". For audition, followers will watch a video DM & # 39 of themselves and sing a song from the show. When the deadline comes, the casting director will post the cast list in a new Instagram post.
But that's where it ends – there is never a real production. The people who do the audition just do it out of love for the game … and bragging a lead role of course. It is the virtual equivalent of the crowds they get when they see their name on the cast list on the blackboard.
This is cute and we end today with this note!
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