Retail and tech giant Amazon says it is investigating leaks and internal corruption that has been identified throughout its marketplace. Since the company’s founding in 1994, Amazon has grown to become one of the world’s largest firms, and that size has led to some problems the company is determined to root out.
Some Amazon employees have reportedly started to make some extra cash by selling confidential information to merchants who are listed on the site. The payments offered for these leaks range from around $80 to more than $2,000. In exchange, merchants will gain access to sales data and reviewers’ email addresses. For the right amount, merchants can have negative product reviews scrubbed or even restore an account that has been deleted for violating the site’s terms of service.
This problem has arisen all over the world, but Amazon says it is a particular issue in China. The number of Amazon accounts in China has skyrocketed in recent years, which is contributing to rising corruption. Another factor is the simple fact that Amazon’s Chinese employees aren’t paid as much, which can incentivize them to take a bribe in exchange for leaking data or deleting some negative reviews.
Amazon has confirmed that it is investigating both sellers and employees who violate the company’s policies in order to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace.
“We have strict policies and a code of business conduct and ethics in place for our employees,” Amazon said in a prepared statement. “We implement sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, and taking legal action. We are conducting a thorough investigation of these claims.”
The competition within Amazon’s marketplace has created its own black market economy, with employees selling services in exchange for cash, and brokers acting as the liaison between the seller and employee. In China, these brokers will often make use of Chinese messaging app WeChat in order to find Amazon employees who might be willing to sell data or services in order to make some extra money.
These brokers do more than simply match employees with merchants. They’ll often serve as a sort of negotiator, setting the prices for various services and imposing a mandatory minimum requirement for the purchase of things such as review removal.
Amazon is taking steps to root out this corruption, but the sheer size of its marketplace means it will have an uphill battle.
Updated on September 17, 2018: Added statement from Amazon.