U.S. senators want Amazon to explain why it recommends bad products

U.S. senators question Amazon on the origin of the Amazon Choice label.

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What you need to know

  • Two U.S. senators have sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos requesting information on how products receive the Amazon Choice label.
  • The lawmakers worry the label could be used to push inferior products on customers similar to those found in a Buzzfeed investigation.
  • Amazon has until September 16 to reply to the senators.

Over the years, you’ve probably done your fair share of Amazon shopping, and when you search, you’ve probably noticed some items have the label “Amazon Choice”. If you’re anything like me, that has probably swayed you more than a few times to choose that product over others.

Up until now, the way products receive top billing on Amazon’s site has never been revealed. Which raises some questions, such as how does a product get that coveted label? Could Amazon be forcing products on you because of fraudulent reviews?

That’s what U.S. senators Bob Menedez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) want to know, and they aim to find out. On August 12, the pair sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos requesting details on how products receive the privilege of the Amazon Choice label.

We are concerned the badge is assigned in an arbitrary manner, or worse, based on fraudulent product reviews. While we recognize that Amazon has taken actions in the past to combat fraudulent reviews — the problem persists — and Amazon may be exacerbating the problem by actively promoting products with fraudulent reviews.

Among the questions asked in the letter, some of the highlights include whether an algorithm is behind the selection, or if there are humans behind the scenes testing these products.

Surely, if Amazon has employees behind the scenes making these decisions, we wouldn’t be seeing issues like Buzzfeed found in one of its recent investigations. In that article, Buzzfeed uncovered products such as a flask which turned alcohol black and an infant thermometer, which in its own description called itself “widely inaccurate”.

The Amazon Choice program began back in 2015 and was meant to help consumers ordering through Echo speakers. Since you can’t really browse products with the Echo speaker, asking for a product would choose the Amazon Choice as the default.

Originally, it was meant to choose a product that was highly rated, well-priced, and available for immediate shipping. However, years of fraudulent reviews may have tainted the Amazon Choice metric and have made the choices suspect.

Amazon has until September 16 to reply to the senators, after which they will decide if the government needs to step in, or if legislation is in order.

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