At the beginning of March, the owner of a small US business accused online retail behemoth Amazon of profiting from the sale of cheap Chinese counterfeits. In a blog post on his company’s website, Elevation Lab founder Casey Hopkins, whose firm makes an under-desk mount for headphones, called out Amazon for failing to do enough to prevent inferior-quality knock-offs being listed for sale on its platform. Hopkins outlined how an anonymous manufacturer in China was able to reverse engineer his under-desk headphone mount and offer it for sale on Amazon at a reduced price, depriving his company of sales, and resulting in buyers receiving substandard products. Amazon moved against the offending seller after Hopkins’ blog post was picked up by a number of technology websites, removing its listings from its platform. The Jeff Bezos-owned firm also issued a platitude-laden statement talking up its efforts to crack down on fraudsters using its marketplace.
Whether or not the seller that faked Hopkins’ product would have been dealt with in this manner if his post had not attracted media attention is debatable, but what is clear is that sales platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart simply are not doing enough to prevent counterfeit goods being listed on their websites. The week before Hopkins posted his blog, a US government report warned that an increasing number of counterfeit goods are being offered for sale on ecommerce platforms. The study, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), noted how the growth of ecommerce had created a new and increasing threat to intellectual property rights holders, and had made it much more difficult for consumers to determine whether or not the goods they buy are genuine.
Warning that cheap counterfeit products offered for sale on ecommerce platforms are endangering legitimate manufacturers and the wider US economy, not to mention posing a significant threat to the health and safety of consumers, the GAO recommended a review of its efforts to enhance intellectual property rights enforcement, and increased cooperation between its officials and the private sector. Commenting on the contents of the report, Beverly Baskin, CEO of the US Council of Better Business Bureaus, said: “If marketplace leaders struggle to keep out counterfeit products, and if consumers cannot rely on those leading companies to protect them from counterfeits, we have a serious problem that can undermine consumer confidence in the entire retail market.”
Bizarrely, the GAO’s recommendations omitted any mention of the enhanced role ecommerce platforms themselves could play in keeping counterfeiters off their websites. Technology giants have proved very adept at reacting quickly to any threat that might impact their bottom lines, but are typically less responsive if a problem does not directly affect them financially. In much the same way that social media companies are slow to remove illegal content from their platforms, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and eBay appear reluctant to invest serious resources into ridding their networks of counterfeit products. Not only is it not profitable for them to do so, in most cases they actually make money from the sale of fake items on their websites. Generally speaking, every time a counterfeit product is sold on an ecommerce platform, its owner takes a cut of the price. As such, it simply does not make financial sense for them to make any real effort to crack down on companies and individuals that use their properties to peddle knock-offs, a situation which has resulted in them only paying lip service to doing so. While ecommerce routinely boast about their initiatives to target fraudsters, an overwhelming amount of evidence clearly shows they are not doing enough.
Sadly, it appears the only way to persuade the owners of these online marketplaces to get serious about properly policing their websites is through the drafting of new legislation that forces them to do so. Last week, the European Commission told technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that they could face fines if they fail to take down extremist material within one hour of it being reported. If lawmakers are serious about protecting intellectual property rights holders and small businesses, it would be sensible to introduce similar punishments for ecommerce firms who allow fake goods to be offered on their platforms. If Amazon, Walmart and eBay faced a substantial fine for every counterfeit listing they allowed to stay live on their websites for 24 hours, it would be likely that some of the brilliant minds they employ would quickly be put to work on developing technology that would ensure these listings are taken down as quickly as they appear.
Large internet firms have proved time and again that they care little for members of the societies they purportedly serve, be they victims of terrorist attacks that have been inspired by material spread online, or small business owners losing money to Chinese counterfeiters who are able to sell knock-offs on ecommerce platforms with near impunity. The time has come for these companies to be held accountable for their behaviour. If they fail to take action of their own accord, they should be forced to protect members of the public and businesses from the bad actors who are currently able use their products all but freely.
Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations
Poachers have stolen 96 million abalone sea snails from the coastal waters of South Africa over the past 18 years, leading to a huge collapse in numbers of a species that was once abundant in the region, according to a new report from illegal wildlife trade monitoring NGO Traffic.
The study found that 90% of seas snails smuggled out of South Africa make their way to Hong Kong, where the animal’s meat is considered a delicacy, as it is in many other Asian nations.
Traffic estimates that poachers in South Africa are typically responsible for the disappearance of 2,000 tonnes of abalone every year, more than 20 times the amount that is allowed to be farmed legally.
In total, the illicit market is thought to be worth some $60 million annually.
Traffic’s report, which has been released alongside a documentary that explores the illegal trade, warns that the rocketing illegal harvesting of the animal is resulting in a huge annual loss for the local economy, and is at least partly being controlled by organised crime networks.
According to the study, an average of at least one abalone seizure took place every day between 2000 and 2016.
“Continued illegal harvesting and associated trade will have devastating impacts on abalone stocks and far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences for coastal communities whose economies, to a greater or lesser extent, are dependent on the proceeds of abalone poaching and trade,” the study says.
Noting the trade’s link to organised criminal cartels, it said: “Seizures of abalone often involved seizures of other contraband, commonly cash, cars or drugs.
“A number of seizures have included other high-value wildlife products, suggesting that the syndicates involved are not only focusing on the trade in poached abalone.”
Concluding its report, Traffic makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of traceability systems, regional collaboration with neighbouring countries to prevent the smuggling of abalone, and the setting up of state-driven socio-economic initiatives to stem poaching of the animal.
Abalone can fetch more than $550 a plate in parts of Asia, driving many poor South Africans to take up poaching, risking their lives by diving in search of the in-demand mollusc.
The decline in local populations of sea snails has also been hit by the presence of Asian organised crime groups, who have moved into the area to take advantage of increasing demand for the animal in their home countries.
No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn
The UK’s ability to tackle terrorism sand serious organised crime will be severely hampered by a hard Brexit, British police chiefs have warned.
Pulling out of the EU without a deal could see UK law enforcement agencies and security services lose access to vital crime-fighting tools such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s intelligence systems and data held by Europol.
Announcing a new £2 million ($2.6 million) unit that will explore how alternative systems could be used if no deal is struck between the EU and Britain before the end of next March, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton said: “The fallbacks we’re going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it will make it harder for us to protect UK citizens and make it harder to protect EU citizens.”
“We are determined to do everything we can to mitigate that, but it will be hard.”
Using the recent Salisbury Novichok attack as an example of how a no-deal Brexit could impact UK police operations, Thornton noted how much more difficult it would be for Britain to detain the two men suspected of carrying it out should they enter the EU without a European Arrest Warrant in place.
The new unit will examine the effectiveness of non-EU crime fighting institutions and mechanisms, such as Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions.
In a statement on the contingency plans, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said the withdrawal of resources such as the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats would seriously impact Britain’s ability “to track criminals’ movements, monitor sex offenders and locate fugitives”.
“European law enforcement is more effective when we take coordinated action against shared priorities,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General of Operations.
“A lack of access to these European tools would mean a reduction in the ability of the UK to contribute to keeping Europe safe.”
In May, the Times of London reported that France had attempted to block British attempts to remain part of EU security systems after Brexit, quoting one UK government official as saying: “Normally France is quite helpful when it comes to security co-operation but on this they are being awkward.”
Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears
The Indian Government has said it is considering taking action to slow the importation of gold into the country, but wants to avoid an increase in importation duties due to fears over smuggling.
A source told India’s PTI news agency that officials are instead considering alternative policy interventions to curb imports, which are having an adverse effect on the value of the rupee.
“There is not much scope for hike in import duty on gold,” the source said.
“Rather, it would be some kind of policy measures to reduce gold import. Higher import duty on gold may increase smuggling activities.”
While failing to specify the measures the Government is considering, the source said raising import duty on gold so close to the festive season would likely result in an increase in smuggling attempts.
Indian officials are due this week to announce a new list of items that will be subject to importation limits as part of wider efforts to cut the country’s growing current account deficit, and stem the fall of the rupee.
A comprehensive list of non-essential items are being considered, including steel, finished steel, furniture, electronics and a number of food items.
The smuggling of gold into India has rocketed over recent years after the Government hiked import duties to 10% in 2013 as part of an earlier effort to cut the country’s current account deficit.
According to the World Gold Council, traffickers smuggled some 120 tons of gold into India last year, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018.
After searching the flight steward, customs officers discovered gold weighing 1.05kg worth an estimated 3.1 million rupees ($50,000), according to the airport’s Joint Commissioner of Customs Anubha Singh.
Commenting at the time, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson confirmed that a member of its cabin crew staff had been detained by Delhi customs authorities, adding: “Singapore Airlines will provide full co-operation to the investigating authorities. We are unable to provide details of the crew member concerned due to confidentiality reasons.”
- Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations
- No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn
- #TakeBackPublicHealth: No place for Big Tobacco’s dirty schemes
- Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears
- Colombian drug gang kingpin charged with multi-million dollar cocaine plot after extradition to US
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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