Amazon: Effectively vetting third party vendors means requiring privacy policies

By Mozilla | Aug. 30, 2019 | Advocacy

On August 23, The Wall Street Journal released an in-depth investigative piece detailing examples of countless products on Amazon with known safety issues sold by third-party vendors.

Here at Mozilla, we took note in particular because we’ve encountered Amazon’s unwillingness to police third party sellers on its platform in another arena: around consumer privacy.

Much like vendors selling products that contain toxic lead levels, are choking hazards, or even have documented safety flaws, Amazon vendors selling low-quality internet-connected devices may knowingly be listing products with security vulnerabilities.

Providing a marketplace for small businesses and other sellers is part of Amazon’s business model, but that doesn’t mean the company shouldn’t vet the products available on its site. Consumers rely on retailers to be upfront about the products sold on their shelves – both physical and digital – and if Amazon wants to maintain customer trust it must take steps to regulate its marketplace.

Consumer advocacy groups are holding Amazon accountable for allowing unsafe products to be sold on its platform and Mozilla is calling on Amazon to require privacy policies for all internet-connected devices.

We know privacy policies aren’t a silver bullet. When they do exist, they can still be convoluted, or outline poor privacy practices. But a mandate from Amazon would force manufacturers to give privacy more thought, and could remove the worst offenders from the market. The mandate could also help address products with opaque supply chains — that is, insecure devices that are manufactured, bought and rebranded by another entity, and then sold to consumers.

Amazon is rightfully taking a lot of heat for its free-for-all approach to its marketplace and as long as it continues to allow devices lacking privacy materials to be sold on its platform, Mozilla will keep up the pressure for it to make this crucial change.