July 12, 2021

Warren Urges DOJ and FTC to Protect Consumers and Public Health After Investigation Reveals Amazon Misled Consumers Seeking FDA-Authorized COVID-19 Masks

April investigation by Sen. Warren revealed Amazon's misleading tactics; In new response, Amazon provided troubling information about the company's search and sponsorship algorithms

Text of Letter to DOJ and FTC (PDF) | Amazon Response (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use authorities granted under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act to investigate how Amazon's search and sponsorship algorithms may be misleading customers who are seeking products authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the letter to FTC and DOJ, she released a new letter from Amazon that contained troubling details about the company's search and sponsorship algorithms. 

Senator Warren's letter follows an investigation by her staff that revealed:

  • Amazon's search algorithm is promoting sponsored products that are not authorized by the FDA, placing them near the top of search results even when customers specifically search for FDA-authorized masks.
  • Amazon often does not clearly indicate if masks have received  FDA authorizations, and leaves out key information, like manufacturers and model numbers, that consumers need to determine whether a mask is FDA-authorized.
  • Amazon'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.

"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," Senator Warren wrote.

In response to the findings of Senator Warren's investigation, Amazon provided new details about how their platform's search and sponsorship algorithms work, and the company failed to accept responsibility for the ways in which they appear to be misleading customers searching for FDA authorized masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

"In particular, the information the company provided in response to my queries indicates that its methods may actively mislead consumers who are seeking FDA authorized products," Senator Warren wrote. "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."