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.
Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ jailed in Tanzania for heading up elephant tusk smuggling operation
A Chinese woman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” has been jailed for 15 years in Tanzania after being convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.
Yang Fenglan was found guilty of running one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa, and is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million.
A court heard how the 69-year-old businesswoman had managed to pose as an upstanding member of the Chinese expatriate community in Tanzania for decades, while all the while overseeing a major smuggling operation that involved huge quantities of illicit ivory being trafficked between Africa and China.
Yang was yesterday found guilty of being behind the smuggling of 860 tusks between 2000 and 2014.
She is said to have used her connections with wealthy and powerful individuals she met while working as Secretary General of Tanzania’s China-Africa business council to facilitate the trafficking operation.
Sentencing Yang to 15 years behind bars for heading up an organised crime gang, a magistrate also ordered her to hand over a fine equal to twice the market value of the ivory she was convicted of smuggling or face another two years in prison.
According to court documents, Yang, who is reported to have worked as a Swahili translator and run a successful Chinese restaurant since arriving in Tanzania in the 1970s, organised the smuggling of ivory weighing a total of 1,889 tonnes.
Authorities believe she may have been active in the illicit ivory trade from as far back as the 1980s.
Speaking after Yang was jailed, campaigners said the prison time she was handed was not sufficiently long enough.
In comments made to the Reuters news agency, WWF Country Director Amani Ngusaru said: “[It] is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania.
“She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants.”
The poaching of ivory in Africa, which is estimated to have caused a 20% decline in the population of elephants across the continent over the course of the past 10 years, is driven by demand in Asia, where elephant tusk is used to make ornaments and jewellery.
Ivory is also used widely in Chinese medicine, and is thought by many in Asia to contain properties that can remove toxins from the body and contribute towards a glowing complexion.
Number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa falls below 1,000 for first time in five years
The number of rhinos that were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa fell below 1,000 for the first time in five years in 2018, according to the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.
In a statement issued last week, Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane revealed that 769 rhinos lost their lives to poachers last year, making 2018 the third consecutive 12-month period during which the number of rhinos killed for their horns fell in South Africa.
As well as a fall in the number rhinos that were killed by poachers, last year also saw police in South Africa arrest 365 suspected rhino poachers, 229 of whom were detained inside or adjacent to Kruger National Park.
“The decline is not only indicative of the successful implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach countrywide, but also a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species,” Mokonyane said.
“Combating rhino poaching remains a national priority, and as such, all the relevant government departments will continue their close collaboration to ensure that this iconic species is conserved for generations to come.
“Although we are encouraged by the national poaching figures for 2018, it is critical that we continue to implement collaborative initiatives to address the scourge of rhino poaching.”
While rhino poaching deaths fell in the country last year, there was an increase in the number of elephants who were killed by wildlife criminals.
Across 2018, 72 elephants lost their lives to poachers who killed them for their tusks, with all but one of these being slaughtered in Kruger National Park.
While cautiously welcoming the fall in the number of rhino poaching deaths in South Africa last year, WWF International warned that the global crisis affecting rhino numbers is very far from over, noting that poaching remains high across the region.
Dr Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, commented: “Corruption remains a major part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.
“To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime.
“We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping identify those who break the law.”
American sniffer dog helps find cocaine stashed in decorative tombstone
A US drug sniffer dog has helped his handlers locate a “decorative tombstone” stuffed full of cocaine that had been imported into the country from Canada.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drug dog Freddy sniffed out the shipment while working at an express consignment facility in Cincinnati.
Border officers moved to x-ray the container the tombstone was being shipped in after Freddy flagged it as potentially containing drugs, resulting in the discovery of a white powder hidden in a compartment inside the resin item.
Tests carried out later confirmed that the substance was in fact cocaine.
Commenting on the discovery, CBP Cincinnati Port Director Joshua Shorr said: “Our officers are committed to keep our country and communities safe from illegal and dangerous drugs.
“This seizure is one example of the quality enforcement work they do on a daily basis.”
In a statement relating to the seizure, CBP Cincinnati highlighted how its officers had recently discovered shipments of cocaine hidden inside items such as documents, piston heads and wheels.
At the beginning of January, CBP officers in Cincinnati intercepted two packages of tinfoil-wrapped sweets that later tested positive for methamphetamines.
After x-raying the packages of sweets, which were on their way from Mexico to Gridley in California, inspectors noted a number of anomalies, prompting them to take a closer look.
Having done so, they discovered that several of the sweets contained plastic capsules holding small bags of a white crystalline powder.
Police said both shipments contained a total of approximately 4kgs of methamphetamines.
“Cocaine and methamphetamines are dangerous and highly addictive stimulants,” the CBP said.
“Abuse of these drugs can lead to paranoia, exhaustion, heart conditions, convulsions, stroke, and death. Both are classified as Schedule II stimulants under the Controlled Substances Act.”
In a separate announcement, CBP officers in California last week revealed they had impounded more than 100kgs of cocaine concealed in produce cargo vessels arriving at Port Hueneme from Ecuador and Guatemala.
The drugs were discovered in two separate shipments, with just over 92kgs being found beneath the floorboards of a refrigerated vessel that had arrived from Ecuador, with the remainder uncovered on a cargo vessel arriving from Guatemala.
“This is the largest drug seizure at Port Hueneme in the last quarter of a century,” said LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of the LA/Long Beach Seaport, and Port Hueneme.
“I’m extremely proud of the results of this joint effort, it shows the professionalism, vigilance and keen focus of both agencies in preventing dangerous drugs into our communities.”
- New technology designed to identify food fraud will count for little if tighter penalties are not introduced
- Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ jailed in Tanzania for heading up elephant tusk smuggling operation
- Shamima Begum could not have made a less compelling case as to why she should be allowed to return to Britain
- Number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa falls below 1,000 for first time in five years
- American sniffer dog helps find cocaine stashed in decorative tombstone
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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