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Amazon to give power to brands to remove fakes from website (theguardian.com)
62 points by dcminter 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments



So, how will this help with things like fake SD cards? Those are usually sold unbranded, but are still faker than fake.

IMHO, it's not a good compromise to push the responsibility for fake-detection onto brands and manufacturers. Small makers might not have the resources to effectively police Amazon's massive inventory, and some brands might abuse this power to squash smaller competitors. It's really Amazon's job to keep fakes out off of its platform, and I think they should do the work themselves.

However, cooperative things like their "serialization" feature seem like a pretty good idea.


> So, how will this help with things like fake SD cards? Those are usually sold unbranded.

How can an unbranded SD card be fake? Fake with respect to what?

A brand brings this value: expectations.

If I buy a no-brand item, I'm not sure what expectations I can have, and I'm not sure I can even claim that it's a fake, since I have no reference point as "the true item".

I mean that's literally the biggest value that a brand brings to you, the consumer.

That's also why brands work hard to build up and maintain good reputations.


> How can an unbranded SD card be fake? Fake with respect to what?

In respect to not being the claimed capacity, but modified in a data-destroying way to make that difficult to detect:

https://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1326059# (from 2015, capacities have obviously changed since then):

> Tests by the Counterfeit Report found that the cards will work at first, but generally speaking, buyers are purchasing what they think are cards with capacities of 32GB and up. Instead they are getting are cards with 7GB capacity. Counterfeiters simply overwrite the real memory capacity with a false capacity to match any capacity and model they print on the counterfeit packaging and card, Crosby explained. Users can’t determine the actual memory capacity of a counterfeit memory card by simply plugging it into their computer, phone, or camera. When the user hits the limit, the phony card starts overwriting files, which leads to lost data.

> The Counterfeit Report often comes across cards in capacities that don’t exist in any product line, and the cards it purchases and tests that are 32GB and up are usually always fake. The counterfeiters make a great profit on the fake cards, and there’s no consequence.


Please see my reply in sibling comment. It addresses this.


A fake SD card is one that doesn't store all the data it claims to. There are SD cards on Amazon that claim to store 64 GB (or whatever), but they really store a fraction of that, with firmware that lies to the user and corrupts the data they try to store beyond the actual capacity.


What you are describing is quite orthogonal to brands: it is simply fraud, ie selling something with specs that you know are bogus. I've seen it called "false advertising" too.

That is exactly what a brand is supposed to protect you against: if a reputable brand is caught doing this, it won't take long for its reputation to go down the drain.

You won't see many reputable brands engage in this, and that also explains why they rightfully complain when someone else uses their brand to push their bogus products, as their reputation can take a hit due to a malicious player.

Intellectual Property protection around brands (brand names, logos, etc...) is serious business.


There's a lot of confusion about various types of more or less dishonest market behavior. I get downvoted every time I point out that it makes no sense to call bootleg books and movies "counterfeit".

There are a few problems a listing might have:

- Product not as advertised.

- Product as advertised, but not made by the asserted manufacturer.

- Product as advertised, but vendor doesn't have the legal right to sell it.

#1 is just fraud, and defrauds the customer. #2 is a trademark violation, and defrauds the customer without the customer suffering harm. #3 is a copyright violation, and defrauds the copyright holder.

Consumer advocates should worry about #1 and to a lesser extent #2. Most policy debate seems to focus on #3. But #2 is what's at issue here, so hey, progress.


> defrauds the customer without the customer suffering harm

How does that work? I don't think this position is defensible, and I also don't think this is what's happening: the customer is defrauded by bearing a risk they did not choose.


It's stipulated that the risk cannot hurt them. The risk you describe is that they don't know whether they're getting what they want or not. But if they're not, that is the first category, product not as described.


In that light, I cannot see how it's different than "not as described". If there is no damage (no one can be hurt), then this does not deserve to be called fraud. Any mitigation would also be wrong on the grounds of wasting time and resources for zero benefit.


If it’s advertised as being made by Sony but it’s not made but Sony, how can it be “as advertised”?


You asked how an unbranded SD card can be fake, and they explained. I think the "reference point for a true item" would be an SD card with the advertised amount of storage, regardless of branding.


> There are SD cards on Amazon that claim to store 64 GB (or whatever), but they really store a fraction of that, with firmware that lies to the user and corrupts the data they try to store beyond the actual capacity.

I wonder: is it possible for an operating system or filesystem to prevent this from happening?


That would require some better way of attaching identity for co-mingled inventory back to the actual entity that shipped it to Amazon. I don't know how much Amazon cares about it yet.


If they gave a shit they never would have commingled marketplace inventory in the first place.


Amazon knows on each purchase which seller the inventory came from. If a report comes in that a specific purchase was fake, they can trace which seller shipped it. This isn't complicated.


This is wrong; if it were true, Amazon wouldn't have such a huge problem. Amazon don't know which seller it's from if it's Fulfilled by Amazon comingled inventory. You can literally ship plastic bricks to Amazon with the right UPC codes on them, ask Amazon to return some of the inventory, and get back actual products with that code that were sent to Amazon by other sellers.


This is true but doesn't mean Amazon doesn't know who sends what.

As long as they track which box contains which units it doesn't matter if they ship A's stock for B's sales or returns, they still know it was A's stock.


They don't track that, if they did they wouldn't have the problem.

They claim they track it, I obviously don't run their warehouses but I don't think they'd explicitly claim it works one way if it doesn't.

Why do you think keeping stock separate instantly solves a counterfeit problem?


Small makers might not have the resources to effectively police Amazon's massive inventory, and some brands might abuse this power to squash smaller competitors.

I just bought a small physical device/tool for a particular task. (Magazine reloader.) Apparently, this small niche manufacturer has serious problems with Chinese knock-offs. However, all of the knock offs could be found with a simple generic search on Amazon. Furthermore, most of the knock offs really relied on also knocking off the branding of the original, so searching on the brand name very specifically found all of the knock offs.

So this can cut both ways. Strong brands, even from small manufacturers, can cope without Amazon's intervention, but this could well raise the barriers to entry for new brands.

It's really Amazon's job to keep fakes out off of its platform, and I think they should do the work themselves.

I ordered 1 Gerber keychain multitool from Amazon awhile back, and I got 3 of them. The runner who grabbed the box didn't realize she/he grabbed a pack of 3. If they are operating at a pace where they get quantity wrong, just who at Amazon is going to take the time to inspect items and distinguish the fakes?

This can be a serious problem, with potentially health damaging effects. There was a problem with knockoffs of a leading brand of electronic hearing protection. These knockoffs had electronics that were too slow to clamp down on noise signals, and so could actually amplify quite dangerous levels of noise for a few milliseconds.

Just last night, I was watching a YouTube video about knockoff green laser pointers. It turns out, all of the cheaper ones tested leave out a necessary filter and so leak a lot of energy as invisible infrared light. This can be quite dangerous, as it's potentially eye damaging and yet invisible, so it's far too easy to expose yourself from a back reflection, without even knowing it.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/420214/the-danger-of-gree...


> Furthermore, most of the knock offs really relied on also knocking off the branding of the original, so searching on the brand name very specifically found all of the knock offs.

That's only one class of knock off, and the easiest kind to police.

> If they are operating at a pace where they get quantity wrong, just who at Amazon is going to take the time to inspect items and distinguish the fakes?

That's a really weird assertion, since Amazon's current practices are totally irrelevant. It also makes no sense to talk about order pickers being the key part of any solution.

Amazon has total freedom to reform its business practices in all relevant parts of its organization to solve this problem, and I would argue it's their responsibility. Those changes would likely not be at the order fulfillment level, but at the SKU creation/inventory acquisition/seller account approval level.

Personally, I think Amazon should completely separate Amazon Marketplace from their main online store, and push it onto an entirely different site that's excluded from searches by default. Then they should rework the FBA into a program that has very high standards and accountability, and make it the only way 3rd party sellers can get things listed on the main Amazon site.


That's only one class of knock off, and the easiest kind to police.

What are the other classes of knock offs?

That's a really weird assertion, since Amazon's current practices are totally irrelevant.

I don't think it's weird at all. If Amazon is going to have human beings checking for knock-offs, they are going to have to look at physical items at one point. I have seen many complaints that in many cases, the original manufacturer's Amazon Fulfillment stocks are intermixed with the counterfeits. The people working knock-off policing are going to be running around the same space as the item runners. They are going to have high workloads. Why wouldn't Amazon's current practices be relevant?

Amazon has total freedom to reform its business practices in all relevant parts of its organization to solve this problem, and I would argue it's their responsibility. Those changes would likely not be at the order fulfillment level, but at the SKU creation/inventory acquisition/seller account approval level.

Why not start a competing online marketplace, with better policing of knock-offs? I think this is already happening, with niche manufacturers opting to sell on their own websites instead of selling on Amazon because of these problems. Whoever is offering fulfillment services to such businesses is effectively doing this. In the future, perhaps Amazon will once again declare, "Your margins are our opportunity," once again and move in to the niche. Perhaps one day Amazon will use this maneuver one too many times.


> I have seen many complaints that in many cases, the original manufacturer's Amazon Fulfillment stocks are intermixed with the counterfeits. The people working knock-off policing are going to be running around the same space as the item runners.

They won't be if Amazon stops commingling stock from different sources.

Dumping everything into a big pile, then expecting pickers (or some other kind of hurried low-level worker) to sort out the fake/counterfeit items is probably the most impractical and inefficient way possible of addressing this problem.

Amazon's problem is on the "input" side, so they should solve it there.

> Why not start a competing online marketplace, with better policing of knock-offs?

Someone could totally do that, but I was talking about fixing the problem at Amazon. No marketplace should be offering fakes and knockoffs, so competition isn't going to be a panacea.


Amazon's problem is on the "input" side, so they should solve it there.

No disagreement. I think there will be come corporate inertial to overcome, however.

No marketplace should be offering fakes and knockoffs, so competition isn't going to be a panacea.

Given that people are already going to alternatives because of this precise issue, it's quite likely the market will mount a specific response, if it hasn't already. The market isn't a panacea. Panaceas don't exist. However, sometimes the market can respond in a good or at least adequate way.


This isn't solving any problem user's have had. This is purely about knocking out the second hand market and unauthorized resellers.


About time. I've ordered quite a few skincare & haircare products that were obliviously refilled with random things. Shampoos that smells like pool cleaner, etc.

I used to always order everything from Amazon. Now I've reached a point where I avoid it.

What's annoying is that the fakes and the reals have the same listings and share the same reviews. So you glance at the reviews and see mostly 5 stars... only to notice that all recent ones are 1 star written by people who received fakes.

Ex: https://www.amazon.com/Joico-111772-K-pak-Conditioner-33-8-o...


Switching products like this seems to be very common on Amazon. I always make sure and go to all reviews and check the most recent before ordering. Review Meta is also a great resource for weeding out less trustworthy reviews.


This will help with fraudulent copies of things like books, but what about utter fraud where they steal content and make fake books?

https://twitter.com/billpollock/status/1091840257073471488


But who will remove the other non-brand fakes? Just yesterday i noticed a 1Tb micro-sd for only $20 instead of the usual $60 for other fake 1Tb cards... I would have flagged the product. If only Amazon had that function.

All these fake items could destroy Amazon's credibility pretty fast...


How do you become trusted ?

do a good job(Amazon's brands ), while making the alternatives look bad.

And it's one huge step ahead against their biggest competitor, aliexpress.


Why has it taken so long? Why isn't Amazon doing it themselves? Why have they not been sued for enabling fake item sales?


Probably the same reason mom and dad don’t try to figure out who started it.


Surprised it took this long. I'm curious if the implementation is right, in both directions. You want to cede enough power to kill counterfeits, but not enough to kill workalike products, secondary market sellers like those that buy genuine merchandise from, say, unsold WalMart stock, etc.


You're surprised it took this long, then outline some of the harder issues that would make it take a long time to implement correctly.

Not only that, but those are policy / design issues. The technical implementation of this at Amazon scale isn't trivial, then adding in fraud detection <for this tool> so folks don't abuse it too.

The assumption that Amazon doesn't care about this problem, the fake reviews problem and others killing their marketplace vs. the problems being difficult to solve that permeates the comments here gets tiring.

There is no logical reason why they wouldn't care when they try to cultivate customer satisfaction and loyalty (they're one of the most loved companies in America) in every other aspect of their business.


Amazon FBA, which made this problem much harder, was launched in 2006. I don't feel like "took this long" is unreasonable.


And it became an issue immediately or was it only an issue in the last 2-3 years as bad actors found and exploited holes in the system?


It was an issue from the outset. By 2016, Apple was claiming 90% of Apple chargers on Amazon were fake. If there's truth to that, it was way past being an "issue" then. I'd consider 5% fakes of a popular product to be a serious issue.

Edit: I'll concede that it's been a serious PR problem for Amazon only in the last 3 years. It's been a problem for brands, sellers, and buyers for much longer, and Amazon has known about it for more than a decade.


Apple claimed that 90% of the ones they bought were fake. They didn't claim theirs were statistically representative of the ones on the marketplace.

I've seen plenty of false Apple claims regarding Amazon and I've talked to people who sued Apple and won. There's also a famous case (search hard 2 find accessories) that sued Apple and lost because the judge basically said Apple had immunity under the 1st amendment to make claims even without vetting them. I think this is wrong but it's tough to go up against Apple in court.


Or worse yet, brands utilizing this functionality with no penalty to shut down lower market price on goods received out of band from direct orders. There needs to be a penalty for brands using this to shut down real offers.


I miss when Amazon was just a retailer, not a marketplace (or at least when it had the marketplace adequately fenced-off from its own retail). It had a lot more value to me as a consumer then.


I suspect some serious first-sale violations will occur with this new system.


Could there be negative unintended consequences here? If someone else sells your product cheaper than you do on Amazon, could this be used to remove them and keep prices higher?


Yes. I've personally received fake complaints of counterfeit from multiple 9 and 10 figure brands. There are active lawsuits (see careful shopper LLC vs tp-link and Johnson vs incopro which was just settled) for this. Shady law firms and "brand protection companies" are advising big brands to do this and it's hurting legitimate sellers. I know sellers with dozens of false complaints, it's getting out of hand.


This was the first thing I thought of. Is this the Amazon equivalent to YouTubes utterly broken copyright system? On YouTube, anyone can claim they own copyright on anyone else's video, even out of spite, without proof, and it is taken down with no recourse possible, except to the person who falsely claimed the copyright.


No reason to link to blogspam. The actual release of information is here: https://blog.aboutamazon.com/company-news/amazon-project-zer...


The Guardian isn't a blog, and this story isn't blogspam. The linked Guardian story provides a lot of useful context about Amazon's counterfeiting problem that isn't included in Amazon's marketing post.


This has existed for the better part of 4 years BTW. No idea why it’s suddenly newsworthy - slow week?


No, it hasn't. Anti-counterfeit controls have existed for a while. This is new, and part of Project Zero, which was only officially announced a week ago.




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