Image: Getty

A new investigation compares Amazon to a buyer-beware flea market, as opposed to a big-box retailer with at least some vague knowledge of the safety of the stuff on its shelves. And the details are, frankly, horrifying.

There have been numerous recent stories about the unreliability and sometimes downright dangers of shopping on Amazon. (Here’s one, at random, about counterfeit car seats.) The latest is a massive effort by the Wall Street Journal, which found “4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc.’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves.” Sure, they took a bunch of them down when contacted by the Journal—57 percent, which still seems rather low, considering. (Update: An Amazon spokesperson contacted us after publication to say: “We reviewed and addressed all the items brought to our attention by the Wall Street Journal.”)

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The specifics are a real parade of horrors. For instance: “80 listings matched the description of infant sleeping wedges the FDA has warned can cause suffocation and Amazon has said it banned.” Oh, and also, in the case of a toy music set: “Journal-commissioned testing showed the set’s xylophone contained nearly four times the lead the federal government allows in children’s products.”

Then there are the magnet toys:

A persistent problem for Amazon has been magnetic toys. Amazon and other big retailers banned sets of high-powered magnetic balls and cubes in 2012 after reports of thousands of children ending up hospitalized for swallowing them. Inside the body, the magnets can snap together and rupture abdominal tissue. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, has called them a “substantial product hazard.” Retailers still selling them generally allow them on store shelves only when marketed for adults.

Amazon banned them—but the Journal still managed to find 80 listings on the site.

The most horrifying story involves a man who was wearing a helmet purchased off Amazon when he got into a motorcycle accident:

The coroner declared Mr. Stokes dead at the scene, a day before he and his girlfriend planned to find out their unborn baby’s gender. His mother sued Amazon, claiming the helmet was flawed. Amazon in court argued it didn’t sell the helmet but merely listed it on the seller’s behalf. It settled for $5,000 without admitting liability. It declined to comment on the case.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last month that the helmet wasn’t DOT compliant and that it had been recalled. It was still listed, and as DOT compliant, last month until the Journal inquired about it, after which Amazon took it down.

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Good luck to all my fellow parents out there trying to buy things that won’t hurt their kids, now that private equity killed Toys R Us! See you guys at Target, I guess!

Update: After publication, Amazon reached out with a link to their response to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting. “Safety is a top priority at Amazon. Products in our store must comply with relevant laws and regulations and our sophisticated tools prevent non-compliant products from being listed,” the statement said, before going into detail about their “industry-leading safety and compliance program.” It reads, in part:

Amazon strives to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where people can find and discover the widest possible selection of safe and authentic goods, and we work hard to earn and maintain your trust. In 2018 alone, we invested over $400 million to protect our store and our customers and built robust programs to ensure products offered are safe, compliant, and authentic.

Amazon offers customers hundreds of millions of items, and we have developed, and continuously refine and improve, our tools that prevent suspicious, unsafe, or non-compliant products from being listed in our store.

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The statement continues here.