Warren wants the authorities to investigate how Amazon’s search and sponsorship algorithms may be misleading to customers searching for FDA-authorized masks.
The Massachusetts lawmaker’s staff looked into the issue in April and found that Amazon’s algorithm promoted sponsored products that weren’t FDA authorized near the top of search results, even when customers searched for masks that were authorized by the agency.
In a letter to Amazon earlier this year, Warren said her staff searched for “KN95 Face Mask FDA Approved” and got 436 results. Of the 22 results on the first page, two of the masks did not receive approval from the FDA, including one that was a sponsored product.
The investigation also found that Amazon didn’t “clearly indicate if masks have received FDA authorizations” and that the retail giant’s “quality control standards do not appear to be sufficient to prevent consumers from being sold masks that are counterfeit or are not authorized by the FDA.”
In a letter to the FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan and Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday, Warren outlined what her staff found and urged them to “protect consumers and public health.”
“I am concerned that Amazon’s policies and procedures appear to be increasing risks for many individuals that are purchasing COVID-19 masks and other protective gear to protect themselves and their communities,” Warren wrote.
The letter continued, “Given the significant public health concerns facing consumers who may be receiving misleading information from Amazon about the masks that they seek for protection from COVID-19, I urge you to review the enclosed materials and use your authorities to protect consumers and public health.”
Update 8:35am CT, July 13: In a statement to the Daily Dot, an Amazon spokesperson said it “rigorously reviews testing” of KN95 masks.
“The FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization—prior to being revoked entirely last week—did not apply to retailers selling KN95 masks, but was instead specific to use in medical settings. When it comes to KN95 masks, Amazon rigorously reviews testing results from accredited labs, verifies manufacturer information, reviews product packaging and product listings to ensure claims are appropriate, and checks the product against the CDC’s counterfeit list,” the spokesperson said.
“Further, before the FDA’s EUA was revoked, we also confirmed that any KN95 masks claiming to be on the FDA’s EUA list were in fact on that list.”