Australian online retailers turn to AI and web-crawling to identify unsafe product listings

The ACCC said over 90% of unsafe online product listings were removed within two businesses by signatories of the Australian Product Safety Pledge.

The adoption of new technology by online businesses that had signed up to the Australian Product Safety Pledge resulted in the removal of over 90% of product listings within two business days of being deemed unsafe, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported.

According to the ACCC's inaugural Australian Product Safety Pledge annual report [PDF], an average of 92.4% of unsafe product listings were removed by signatories within two business days after consulting a variety of information sources, such as the Product Safety Australia website, as well as regularly reviewing customer feedback and assessing reports from third-party sellers.

The report also showed that an average of 96.6% listings were removed within two business days as a result of regulatory take-down requests.

The reported highlighted how signatories turned to technology enhancements to assist with addressing product safety risks. Some of those enhancements included introducing AI and image recognition to detect non-compliant products, web-crawling technology to automatically find new global recalls, and introducing gating tools to block unsafe products.

"We are pleased with the measures implemented by the signatories which are helping to ensure consumers can have a safer experience when shopping online," ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

The current signatories of the voluntary pledge, which was launched last November, are AliExpress, Amazon Australia, Catch.com.au, eBay Australia, and MyDeal.com.au.

Each have committed to 12 product safety actions that go beyond ordinary legal requirements -- such as the Australian Consumer Law, the Competition and Consumer Act, and other relevant legislations -- and which aim to prevent the sale of unsafe goods online. 

Some of the specific pledge commitments include regularly consulting the Product Safety Australia website for information on recalled and/or unsafe products; providing a dedicated contact point for Australian regulatory authorities to notify and request take-downs; and cooperating with Australian regulatory authorities in identifying, as far as possible, the supply chain of unsafe products by responding to data/information requests within 10 business days should relevant information not be publicly available.

The ACCC also identified that there was only take-down delays for a small percentage of listings, which it said was due to time differences where sellers and support staff were located in different countries, and complexity in identifying the relevant listing due to different model numbers or because they were listed in different categories and additional internal reviews were needed.

"One signatory identified that delays in removing listings at the request of a regulatory authority occurred when they sought further information from sellers on the listing and the sellers were unresponsive. To overcome this issue, the platform now de-lists the product immediately, conducts their investigation and contacts the seller following removal of the product from the marketplace," the report said.

The Australian Product Safety Pledge was modelled on a similar initiative introduced in the European Union, and designed to  strengthen product safety measures across online businesses to protect Australian consumers from safety risks when shopping online.

Signatories of pledge include, but are not limited to, online businesses that facilitate marketplace services, or are a hybrid marketplace and retailer engaging in business to consumer or consumer to consumer transactions via the internet.

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