2020 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom finalist

How Amazon Puts Us at Risk

About the Project

Americans can buy garbage on—literally. That’s what The Wall Street Journal exposed as part of its 2019 investigation showing how the tech company disregards consumer safety. The internet’s most popular marketplace allowed sellers to pull items from dumpsters and pass them off as new, which the Journal demonstrated by selling a jar of discarded lemon curd on the site.

This was just one of the many revelations to challenge Amazon’s public image and shift the national conversation about the regulation of big tech. The Journal revealed that Amazon, long seen as a convenient and high-value online store with excellent delivery, actually ran an unrtuly flea market that lacked the safety and quality control of traditional retailers.

In a series of articles and documentary videos, the Journal found thousands of unsafe and banned products for sale on the site, including recalled motorcycle helmets and sleeping mats that can suffocate infants; toys with lead content above the legal limit sold as “Amazon’s Choice”; clothes from factories blacklisted for abusive conditions; and scores of anonymous sellers fraudulently labeling products with nonexistent federal certifications.

It also showed how Amazon changed its secret search algorithm to feature more-profitable listings, rather than those that are best for buyers.

The Journal’s reporting puts into sharp relief the pitfalls facing consumers as Silicon Valley’s leading online retailer pushes into new markets and extends its dominance. Both Congress and regulators are often absent in protecting consumers from the resulting hazards. Amazon says policing sellers who operate on the platform isn’t its responsibility, either—a notion challenged by the Journal’s reporting.