An important developments, but one that has flown under most people’s radar.
Amazon has been eating the retail sector alive during the pandemic. But its business model increasingly relies on facilitating the flow of Chinese junk, scam products, blatant ripoffs, and dangerous items being resold through third party sellers. Amazon’s massive infrastructure is used to list and move the stuff around through its warehouses and its delivery subcontractors while taking zero responsibility for the products. It’s a new low and a new and toxic business model.
As Evan Symon at California Globe reports, Amazon just lost a major case over that very practice.
On Thursday, California’s 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana found that Amazon.com can now be held liable for injury for selling defective products from third party sellers in it’s online marketplace.
The plaintiff of the case, Angela Bolger, had bought a laptop battery off of Amazon from a seller called “E-Life”, the working name for Hong Kong battery seller Lenoge Technology. Bolger said that the battery had burst into flames when used, burning her arms, legs, and feet, as well as damaging her laptop.
Amazon argued that it wasn’t liable because it did not distribute, manufacture, or sell that product, and that it was only available on their website from a third party seller order.
The Appellate Court didn’t agree with Amazon’s stance, noting that the product had been listed on Amazon, was stored in an Amazon warehouse, had facilitated payment, and shipped it out in Amazon packaging, proving it to have a hand in getting it to Bolger and thus being liable under California law.
The court also found a federal statue in favor of the plaintiff, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, noting that “It does not apply here because Bolger’s strict liability claims depend on Amazon’s own activities, not its status as a speaker or publisher of content provided by Lenoge for its product listing.”
The CDA is one reason why this story is on Front Page Magazine.
Amazon is playing the same familiar game as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, disavowing responsibility for a platform that it totally controls. That’s a dishonest double game. And it’s not an advantage enjoyed by the brick and mortar retailers it’s competing with. Meanwhile Amazon is free to behave as irresponsibly as it likes.
Angela Bolger says she bought a replacement laptop battery on Amazon from E-Life, a fictitious company name for Lenoge Technology Ltd., which shipped the battery to her in Amazon-branded packaging. Several months later, Bolger claims, the battery exploded. She says she was never notified of safety concerns that led to E-Life being banned from Amazon’s platform.
Of course not.
An Amazon spokesperson said in an email to The Verge that the company would appeal the decision. “The court’s decision was wrongly decided and is contrary to well-established law in California and around the country that service providers are not liable for third party products they do not make or sell,” the spokesperson said.
Amazon is not a service provider. It’s a retailer. The biggest one in the country.
The larger implications of this ruling for Big Tech is that the war goes on a number of fronts. The previous court ruling about Apple’s walled garden of apps led to its current struggle with Epic. (Epic is backed by China’s Tencent, and I’m not cheering for it, and I don’t view Apple as a monopoly, largely because it’s too greedy to really monopolize the market effectively and is running down, low on product ideas in the post-Steve Jobs era.) But all of these are bricks in the wall.
Big Tech won’t be taken down easily and quickly, but its legal privileges are being chipped away at. The tide is coming in. It’s a slow tide, but virtually inevitable.
The DOJ is tackling Google in coordination with AGs from around the country. Except California. Of course.
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