Amazon Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN) was found to be advertising on websites that spread COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories, according to a report by The Guardian. The content of these sites includes claims that the pandemic was caused by a secret association, and that vaccines are killing people.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism established that Amazon placed ads “through the ‘opaque’ digital advertising market, which is forecast to be worth more than $455 billion (£387bn) this year.”
Digital ads are placed following an algorithm-based architecture that “match online data about people with available advertising space and then sell access to web users as they browse.”
This way, experts say, the company might be unwittingly funding COVID-19 misinformation.
“Because they now have a source of funding, they can not only survive but also proliferate,” says Dr. Augustine Fou, an independent ad fraud researcher and former employee of advertising agency Omnicom.
“And that’s why we’re seeing this huge problem. Because of the lack of transparency … the companies and organizations buying the ads could be unaware that their marketing is appearing on –and potentially funding– these sources of misinformation.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism founds Amazon advertisements on more than 30 websites offering fake news including outlandish conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, as well as claims involving Bill Gates and the “toxicity” of mRNA vaccines.
An Opaque Realm
The organization analyzed several websites displaying both Covid misinformation and ads, “using a combination of manual checking by researchers in the U.S. and U.K. and automated systems that ‘crawl’ sites to record what happens when someone visits them.”
Mozilla’s Raegan MacDonald asserts that the digital advertising realm is “very opaque,” as “It’s almost like we’re not supposed to look under the hood. Because if you do, you find this mess.”
The Global Disinformation Index was instrumental in identifying the websites, while Rocky Moss, co-founder, and chief executive of ad quality platform Deepsee.io provided the ad analysis. They teamed up with Braedon Vickers, the creator of a search platform called Well-Known.
Amazon Pharmacy –Amazon’s online drugstore service– had the largest number of ads, showing how the internet giant is betting hard on this company division.
“Ads for Amazon Pharmacy, which is not available in the U.K., accounted for more than 1% of 42,000 recorded by the ‘crawlers’ and were found on more than 30 of the misinformation sites.”
Amazon is part of the Entrepreneur Index, which tracks 60 of the largest publicly traded companies managed by their founders or their founders’ families.