Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Amazon takes merchants to task for price hiking, profiteering over coronavirus fears

Price hikes and misleading claims are rife on the e-commerce platform, leading to the removal of over one million products.

Amazon has removed over one million products in recent weeks in a bid to stop merchants profiteering from the coronavirus outbreak. 

The respiratory illness, which at the time of writing has reached many thousands of diagnosed cases worldwide and has claimed the lives of over 2,800 people, prompting travel bans, hotel lockdowns, and the cancellation of prominent events and conferences. 

The majority of recorded cases are in China and the surrounding region, but there has been a recent uptick in Europe, with Italy recording a number of new infections. 

As worries concerning the 2019 novel coronavirus -- also known as Covid-19 -- increase, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been fighting a constant battle against a tide of false information, including fake protection recommendations and cures that have included washing in bleach and eating garlic. 

See also: Amazon makes device SDK integration easier with Amazon Common Software

The WHO deems this problem an "infodemic," and now, it seems one that merchants wish to capitalize on. 

Supply and demand in cases of crisis can lead to price increases. Tie this with a stream of false information on ways to prevent catching or to cure coronavirus, online marketplaces teeming with products, and fear, and you may end up with a hotbed of items appearing online which are misleading to the public. 

This is precisely the issue that Amazon is facing, having removed over one million products from its online platform in recent weeks for inaccurately claiming to protect against or cure coronavirus. 

As reported by Reuters, Amazon said on Thursday that price gouging is also taking place, with increased prices for products including respiratory masks and sanitizing gels. 

An example found on Thursday was that of an Amazon merchant offering a 10-pack of masks for $128, an increase from a previous, average price of $41.24. The item was later made unavailable. 

TechRepublic: Brand value: Amazon breaks $220 billion mark, Google in second place at $160 billion

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said, "there is no place for price gouging on Amazon." 

Amazon uses both manual and automatic checks to keep an eye on product cost fluctuations; however, the company declined to say at what point an item is considered to be unfairly priced. 

As coronavirus continues to spread, sudden price hikes and false claims are likely to keep Amazon's team busy. The company has provided a link, however, on search results to CDC resources

CNET: Amazon Prime competitor Walmart Plus in testing phase

In recent Amazon news, on Tuesday, the e-commerce giant announced the release of Amazon Common Software for Devices (ACS) in preview, optimizing software designed to streamline the process for launching devices compatible with Amazon Device SDKs. 

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