Ama­zon pulls Auschwitz Christ­mas items af­ter crit­i­cism

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Mariel Padilla and Mihir Zaveri

Ama­zon on Sun­day re­moved from its mar­ket­place hol­i­day or­na­ments, a bot­tle opener and other prod­ucts dis­play­ing im­ages of the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp Auschwitz af­ter the Auschwitz-Birke­nau Memo­rial and Mu­seum in Poland shared im­ages of the prod­ucts on so­cial me­dia, prompt­ing wide­spread out­rage.

In a Twit­ter post the memo­rial said the or­na­ments were in­ap­pro­pri­ate and called the bot­tle opener “rather dis­turb­ing and dis­re­spect­ful.”

Within hours, the post was shared thou­sands of times, prompt­ing an­gry replies and ques­tions about how Ama­zon vets the prod­ucts sold through its plat­forms. At 1:30 p.m., the memo­rial said in an­other post that Ama­zon ap­peared to have re­moved the or­na­ments. By Mon­day, none of the prod­ucts ap­peared to be avail­able for pur­chase.

An Ama­zon spokes­woman said in a state­ment that the prod­ucts had been re­moved and that “all sell­ers must fol­low our sell­ing guide­lines and those who do not will be sub­ject to ac­tion, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial re­moval of their ac­count.”

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how long the mer­chan­dise was ad­ver­tised on the on­line re­tail plat­form. Ama­zon de­clined to an­swer fur­ther ques­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Ama­zon’s pol­icy on of­fen­sive and con­tro­ver­sial ma­te­ri­als, prod­ucts “re­lated to hu­man tragedies” are pro­hib­ited. The com­pany de­cides which prod­ucts are ap­pro­pri­ate by con­sid­er­ing a “global com­mu­nity of cus­tomers and cul­tural dif­fer­ences and sen­si­tiv­i­ties.” The pol­icy does not ap­ply to books, mu­sic, videos or DVDs.

The Auschwitz-Birke­nau Memo­rial and Mu­seum did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The on­line re­tail gi­ant has been ac­cused of poorly polic­ing its plat­forms be­fore.

In July 2018, two non­profit groups re­ported that shop­pers could buy one­sies for ba­bies stamped with alt-right im­ages, Nazi-themed ac­tion fig­ures and an­ti­Semitic books and mu­sic. The groups ac­cused Ama­zon’s poli­cies ban­ning hate­ful or of­fen­sive mer­chan­dise of be­ing “weak and in­ad­e­quately en­forced,” al­low­ing hate groups to “gen­er­ate rev­enue, prop­a­gate their ideas and grow their move­ments.”

Weeks later, un­der pres­sure from law­mak­ers, Ama­zon said it would not let third-party re­tail­ers sell prod­ucts that fea­ture Nazi and white na­tion­al­ist sym­bol­ism on its plat­form.

Chris McCabe, a for­mer Ama­zon em­ployee and founder of ecom­merceChris, a firm that con­sults with mar­ket­place sell­ers, said re­peat is­sues with of­fen­sive con­tent partly re­flected Ama­zon’s “re­ac­tive” ap­proach to en­forc­ing its poli­cies.

McCabe said that al­go­rithms trawl the web­site, look­ing for items that might vi­o­late Ama­zon poli­cies. Items iden­ti­fied by the al­go­rithm are then typ­i­cally re­viewed by hu­mans who de­ter­mine whether they should be re­moved.

The sheer vol­ume of items be­ing sold on Ama­zon through third­party sell­ers makes it chal­leng­ing to iden­tify and re­move all of­fen­sive items be­fore they are found by the public, McCabe said. The vol­ume, he added, also makes it im­pos­si­ble for hu­mans to re­view all items be­fore they are posted. More than half of the prod­ucts sold on Ama­zon.com are from third-party sell­ers.

McCabe said that the shop­ping spike dur­ing Black Fri­day and Cy­ber Mon­day — the busiest shop­ping times of the year — would prob­a­bly stretch Ama­zon’s en­force­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties even fur­ther.

“I have no doubt that these weren’t flagged,” he said. “I don’t think it is, for ex­am­ple, a tech­ni­cal er­ror. I think they were flagged. They just weren’t re­viewed in a timely man­ner.”

But he also said the episode showed that Ama­zon could be do­ing a bet­ter job of polic­ing prod­ucts on its web­site, such as bet­ter pri­or­i­tiz­ing what was re­viewed first.

“We’re hope­ful that ad­di­tional re­sources, both on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion side and in terms of their on­line tools on the tech­ni­cal side, will re­sult in a re­duced like­li­hood that of­fen­sive ma­te­rial will ap­pear in the fu­ture,” he said. Re­mov­ing all of­fen­sive items, though, “would be very dif­fi­cult,” he added.

The memo­rial, based in Oswiecim, Poland, pre­serves the site of the for­mer Ger­man Nazi Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion and ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp, the largest of the death camps, where about 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple were de­ported. The camp en­com­passes 500 acres, 155 build­ings and 300 ru­ins.

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