Elizabeth Warren says Amazon research fosters misinformation about COVID

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  • Senator Elizabeth Warren has asked Amazon to provide details of COVID-19 disinformation on its platform.
  • The senator asks how his algorithms work and how Amazon intends to crack down on false COVID-19 stories.
  • Lawmakers have pushed big tech companies to be more transparent and oversight over their technologies.

Amazon faces closer scrutiny from Washington regarding the spread of COVID-19 disinformation on its market platform.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter on Tuesday to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, ​​saying the company’s search engine is “peddling misinformation” about COVID-19 and its vaccines as the Delta variant of the virus spreads.

“This pattern and practice of misconduct suggests that Amazon is unwilling or unable to change its business practices to prevent the spread of lies or the sale of inappropriate products,” Warren said in the letter. “Unethical, unacceptable and potentially illegal action by one of the country’s largest retailers,” she said in the letter.

Warren said in August that his staff investigated the Amazon marketplace and found that the site’s searches for “COVID-19,” “COVID vaccine,” and “pandemic” were among the best books of results and results. other products containing inaccurate information regarding the spread of disease. and its vaccines.

The letter quotes a book written by Joseph Mercola and Ronnie Cummins. Mercola has been labeled by the New York Times as “the most influential disseminator of coronavirus disinformation online”. The book remains a highly ranked result in both “books” and “all categories”, and is among the # 1 bestsellers in “Political Freedom”. Other best-selling books listed include inaccurate claims about holistic cures for COVID-19, such as the “drug” directly sold by the Mercola site, and ivermectin, a dewormer for horses, according to the letter from Warren.

The senator called for an “immediate review” of Amazon’s algorithms, giving the company 14 days to file a public report on how its algorithms are directing consumers to COVID-19, and outline a clear solution to the problem. way they change it as well.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider on the letter.

This is the second letter Warren sent to Jassy criticizing the role of Amazon’s algorithm in public disinformation about the coronavirus. The earlier letter, sent in April, reported instances where COVID-sponsored Amazon content promoted masks and other personal protective equipment that were not cleared by the FDA. The company also reportedly omitted product details that would help potential consumers verify the validity of the masks, such as manufacturers and model numbers.

Warren noted in his latest letter that Amazon no longer promotes any “sponsored” search results as it would with non-FDA approved masks. Amazon also offers a banner when certain COVID-19 terms are searched, prompting users to find out more on the CDC website.

Amazon, like many other algorithm-heavy companies, has been fairly silent about how exactly its algorithms work. Regulators and competition advocates have previously looked at Amazon’s secret search algorithms, finding that Amazon is tweaking its algorithms to benefit the company, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Amazon is one of many large tech companies that have received continued reluctance from lawmakers in Washington, who want these companies to do more to monitor and report cases of disinformation on their platforms. Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter all testified again before Congress in March on the matter.


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