Dangerous eBay listings can be removed by regulators

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Online seller eBay says it is handing regulators the power to take down dangerous listings without consulting the company.

Officials will be able to remove items “where they have evidence of a risk to consumer safety”, eBay said.

In the UK, that will include the Office for Product Safety and Standards and internet regulator Ofcom.

Online market places, such as eBay, are engaged in a constant battle to ferret out unsafe items sold by their users.

That is in part because nearly anyone can create a listing on online auction sites.

Over the years, investigators have found unsafe electrical appliances, toys, and batteries for sale on a wide range of online marketplaces – including Amazon and the Chinese site Wish.

This latest move, eBay said, was designed to speed up the removal of “illegal or unsafe items” without waiting for approval from the company.

Only selected, trusted authorities will have access to the new tools. But those that do will have “the ability to take down any listings from the marketplace themselves”, the company said.

More than 50 authorities around the world are already involved in the early stages of the project, it added.

Harmful products

EBay said it already had “extensive” reporting systems for customers to use and took “pro-active” steps to remove banned items.

But “eliminating the need for a second level of approval streamlines the process, making product removal more efficient and reducing the risk of harmful products being purchased,” it said.

Lesley Rudd, chief executive of Electrical Safety First, said: “We welcome any move that speeds up the process of removing dangerous goods online”.

“Our investigations have continuously found dangerous, unbranded electrical goods with obvious visual defects for sale to UK consumers. These products often lack some of the most basic safety features.”

But she added that more work needs to be done to stop such products going on sale in the first place.

“Online marketplaces must be legally recognised as a retailer in order to sufficiently tackle the issue of dangerous goods sold via their sites and we urge the government to include these sites in their forthcoming Online Safety Bill,” she said.

One group involved in eBay’s new system is Westminster Council. Councillor Heather Acton said the past year had seen a huge increase in shopping online – and scams and fraud were a concern.

The new tools mean “our trading standards teams have been able to expedite our processes and ensure that our local communities can continue to be safe”, she said.

Another body with access is Ofcom, which among other roles regulates the radio waves used for broadcast and wireless signals. Certain types of wireless radio kit are tightly regulated – so that they cannot interfere with protected signals – and it plans to use the new tools to remove such items from sale.

Murray Lambell, eBay’s UK manager, said the pandemic had led online shopping to become “an even greater part of everyone’s lives”.

“Market places should be taking their responsibility for consumer safety seriously, but collaboration with authorities is vital,” he said.

“We hope that other players in the industry will follow suit,” he added.

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