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Amazon’s Strategy for Fighting Counterfeits? Facial Recognition

Signing up for any account online typically means entering your name, email address and password. But for Amazon sellers, reports indicate they’re required to submit something new and different: five-second video clips of their face.

A report in BuzzFeed News describes how a Vietnamese vendor trying to sign up for an Amazon seller account was asked to turn on his webcam and record a brief video of himself before his new account could be confirmed. It’s believed this stronger seller verification requirement could help to prevent individuals from opening multiple accounts to hawk knockoff goods, a problem Amazon addressed directly for the first time in its annual investor report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We also may be unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies,” Amazon’s 10-K filing said.

The problem of fake goods has plagued Amazon for years. Birkenstock pulled its footwear from the platform amid allegations of counterfeiting. Brands like Nike and Chico’s teamed up with Amazon to sell their products directly through the e-commerce platform, acknowledging that first-party seller status affords better brand protection.

Amazon has come under fire for failing to enact stronger measures that could weed out bad actors and unauthorized products on its site, instead letting Alibaba take the lead. Some would argue, however, that some fakes are easy to spot—and avoid. If the price is too good to be true, there’s a reasonable chance the product on offer doesn’t pass the smell test.

Rampant counterfeiting hasn’t hampered Amazon’s growth or made much of a dent in its reputation. Its 2018 net income climbed to $10.07 billion from $3.03 billion the year prior.

Still, the prevalence of imitation goods could be one of the key obstacles holding Amazon back from luring luxury brands—perennial counterfeiting targets—to its platform.

Amazon sparked controversy last year when the public got wind of Rekognition, the facial recognition software it sold to law enforcement groups. The software revealed a gender and ethnic bias, and mistook 28 members of Congress convicted criminals, according to the ACLU.