Despite efforts to remove coronavirus listings, a search revealed misleading products a week later, using alternate spellings to get around filters.
- The e-commerce platform Etsy has taken steps to remove thousands of product listings that reference "coronavirus" or "COVID-19," in an attempt to stop people from capitalizing on the pandemic.
- But a week after the platform announced its efforts, the Etsy search bar's autofilled recommendations included "coronavirüs," which returned results for products with fake health claims.
- After Business Insider reached out to Etsy, it removed listings for a DIY hand sanitizer, an "Immunity Tea" that promised to "fight off anything viral," and an "I survived coronavirus" bracelet and baby romper, among others.
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As e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay work to combat hand sanitizer price gouging and false health claims in face mask product listings, the quirky handmade goods and craft supplies platform Etsy is facing its own difficulties during the novel coronavirus panic.
Starting at the beginning of March, Etsy confirmed that it was working to remove all listings for products that reference "coronavirus" or "COVID-19," to prevent sellers from capitalizing on the pandemic. Some of the items made false health claims that they could prevent the user from getting coronavirus.
But a week after Etsy announced its efforts, many listings for coronavirus-themed products remained on the platform, including some listings for products like DIY hand sanitizer and "Immunity Tea" that claim to be able to "fight off" viruses or have other medical advantages.
When a site visitor clicks the Etsy search bar to type something in, a dropdown box pops up with the searches that are "Popular right now." A search the morning of March 11 included coronavirus prevention keywords like "face mask adults" and "aloe vera gel," an ingredient used in make-your-own hand sanitizer.
The Etsy search bar encouraged shoppers to look at 'coronavirüs' listings for 'Immunity Tea' and more
Furthermore, if you start to type "coronavirus," you won't see it as an autofilled recommended search. But you may see "coronavirüs" pop up, with the "ü" spelling potentially being a way sellers are getting around site moderators blocking their coronavirus-themed items from results lists.
Even searching for just "coronavirus" returned a number of products capitalizing on the outbreak, including an "I survived coronavirus" cuff bracelet, a "Coronavirus: Find Your Bleach" tank top, and descriptions for items like a "Don't cough on me" t-shirt that use the keyword "coronavirus."
After Business Insider reached out to Etsy with screenshots of these listings and results, the platform removed all of the listings, leaving the results bare of anything that mentioned coronavirus.
The more dangerous products that showed up prior to Etsy's intervention in the "coronavirus" results include items that sellers are branding as potential medical preventions or cures for the virus, which has already killed more than 3,200 people, mostly in China, and infected more than 95,000 people in more than 80 countries.
One listing for "Immunity Tea to fight off anything viral" showed up on the first page of "coronavirus" Etsy results, and selling for $25. Ready to ship within 3 to 5 days from Kissimmee, Florida, the item's description said it contains rosemary, sage leaf, lemon balm, dandelion root, and licorice root.
"These herbs have been used in chinese medicine for years to fight off viral infection, this is a good tea for cleaning out toxins as well [sic]," the product description read. There's no evidence that such a concoction actually fights off viral infection, and there is currently no vaccine to prevent the novel coronavirus.
On the first page of results, there was also a listing for DIY hand sanitizer – but it doesn't actually contain any hand sanitizer. It was just a $12.85 bottle of 4 ounces of pure aloe vera juice, which the listing advised you mix with 90% pure isopropyl alcohol for antiviral properties. You can make your own hand sanitizer safely, but experts still advise washing your hands, since the sanitizer only eliminates some microbes, not all germs.
In a statement to Business Insider, Etsy confirmed that it is still working to remove listings.
"In order to keep our marketplace safe, our team is prioritizing taking down any listings that claim to protect against coronavirus," an Etsy spokesperson said in a statement.
"In the past few weeks, we have removed thousands of items that make such medical claims. We have also taken down hundreds of items that attempt to exploit the developing coronavirus situation. Our teams continue to automatically and manually review and remove items that violate our policies."