List­ings for gun parts slip through

Google and Ama­zon ban cer­tain items, but some ap­peared days af­ter shoot­ings

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Greg Bensinger

Google and Ama­zon, two of the big­gest plat­forms for on­line shop­ping, have been of­fer­ing for sale and prof­it­ing from list­ings of firearm and gun ac­ces­sories, an ap­par­ent vi­o­la­tion of their own stated poli­cies that shows the pit­falls of soft­ware-driven re­tail.

The com­pa­nies as re­cently as Mon­day, within days of three mass shoot­ings that have shaken the na­tion, were of­fer­ing ri­fle mag­a­zines for sale on their sites, in­clud­ing mod­els with a ca­pac­ity to hold 25 or more bul­lets.

On its shop­ping site, which of­fers an ar­ray of re­tail goods from ven­dors across the web, Google had list­ings for boxes of shot­gun rounds like the $31.25 20-round Hor­nady Crit­i­cal De­fense set, de­scribed on the man­u­fac­turer’s web­site as able to “place all pro­jec­tiles on a man-sized tar­get at seven yards” and “pro­vide ex­cel­lent pen­e­tra­tion.”

Google bans the pro­mo­tion of prod­ucts that “cause dam­age, harm or in­jury,” so the list­ings which di­rect users to re­tail sites are not al­lowed and should have been de­tected by the com­pany’s soft­ware and re­moved. For in­stance, a search for “bump stock,” which Google banned af­ter the de­vice for rapid fir­ing was used in the 2017 Las Ve­gas mas­sacre, pro­duces no re­sults.

Ama­zon’s on­line pol­icy lists dozens of banned wares re­lated to gun use. But on Mon­day, the re­tailer was of­fer­ing am­mu­ni­tion clips such as the But­ler Creek 25-round magazine, an at­tach­ment for ri­fles used to store mul­ti­ple bul­lets. Ama­zon says it ships the $45.99 item to cus­tomers it­self, sug­gest­ing it stores it in one of its ware­houses.

“The sale of weapons, guns, and cer­tain gun parts is strictly pro­hib­ited on Google Shop­ping,” said Google spokes­woman Caro­line Klap­per-Matos. “As soon as we found pol­i­cyvi­o­lat­ing re­sults, we re­moved them and are work­ing to pre­vent th­ese in­stances from re­oc­cur­ring.”

Ama­zon didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. (Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

Af­ter be­ing con­tacted by The Post, Google elim­i­nated some of the list­ings like the Hor­nady rounds and a box of Rem­ing­ton hol­low point rounds, which could be found by search­ing for “am­mu­ni­tion” on the shop­ping site and click­ing an op­tion for “Buy with Google.” It also elim­i­nated some re­sults noted by The Post found for “ri­fle magazine” and “am­mu­ni­tion belt.” Ama­zon on Tues­day pulled down list­ings for some ri­fle mag­a­zines iden­ti­fied af­ter be­ing no­ti­fied Mon­day.

The avail­abil­ity of the goods speaks to the lim­i­ta­tions of the com­pany’s al­go­rithms to keep even pro­hib­ited items from mak­ing their way to the web­sites. Al­go­rithms play a huge role in polic­ing the in­ter­net, by au­to­mat­i­cally weed­ing out of pro­hib­ited lan­guage, images and other dis­al­lowed things. Tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies con­stantly update the soft­ware, of­ten in re­sponse to new in­ter­nal poli­cies or so­ci­etal change.

There is re­newed scru­tiny over firearm sales af­ter gun­men killed 35 peo­ple and in­jured dozens more in a one-week stretch in three U.S. cities. Some Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates re­newed calls for tighter con­trols on as­sault weapon sales, and pro­test­ers flocked to the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion head­quar­ters to de­mand stronger gun laws.

Google’s list of pro­hib­ited prod­ucts in­cludes am­mu­ni­tion, as well as firearms, scopes, am­mu­ni­tion belts and guides for 3D print­ing of guns, ac­cord­ing to a pol­icy it pub­lished on­line. Still, The Post found ex­am­ples of each on the shop­ping site, in­clud­ing goods that could be pur­chased di­rectly through Google, rather than by be­ing routed to the mer­chant’s web­site first. The shop­ping site shows mil­lions of prod­ucts for sale across the web, some of which are avail­able to buy us­ing Google as the credit card pro­ces­sor.

More than half of goods on Ama­zon are now sold by in­de­pen­dent mer­chants, and many of those items are shipped di­rectly to con­sumers with­out Ama­zon’s di­rect in­volve­ment in the ful­fill­ment process. But if the on­line re­tailer ful­fills and ships the item to a cus­tomer — some­thing typ­i­cally re­quired to gain the Prime ship­ping des­ig­na­tion — it means that a mer­chant usu­ally ships that item for stor­age to an Ama­zon ware­house. Then Ama­zon sends it to the cus­tomer once they click buy.

Some tech com­pa­nies are seek­ing to rein in gun sales, such as soft­ware provider Sales­force, which in re­cent weeks has in­di­cated to some re­tail­ers that it will stop pro­vid­ing its ser­vices if they don’t halt the sale of as­sault ri­fles, The Post re­ported in May.

Some items still re­main for sale on Google in vi­o­la­tion of its poli­cies, such as realistic-look­ing toy ri­fles and gun grips, which Google ex­plic­itly pro­hibits.

The com­pany ear­lier Mon­day elim­i­nated a 100round magazine sim­i­lar to that used by the gun­man in Day­ton, Ohio, that al­lowed him to kill nine peo­ple in 30 sec­onds be­fore po­lice struck him down. Google took ac­tion on that item af­ter Twit­ter user Pin­board noted the list­ing Mon­day af­ter­noon.

On Ama­zon, the list­ings re­mained un­der a search for “ri­fle magazine,” in­clud­ing a spon­sored re­sult for a Cros­man brand magazine for a .22 cal­iber ri­fle, mean­ing the seller paid Ama­zon to ad­ver­tise it.

JOE RAEDLE/GETTY 2012

Google and Ama­zon have poli­cies pro­hibit­ing the sale of guns, am­mu­ni­tion and cer­tain firearm ac­ces­sories.

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