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After Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter threat, Amazon scrambled globally to sanitize its listings

After India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj threatened consequences to Amazon over a carpet bearing the Indian flag listed on their Canadian website, the company scrambled to perform a global audit of its catalogue in all 14 countries where it operates, a response to an RTI application by MediaNama has revealed. In the response, the Ministry of External Affairs described the correspondence between the Indian government and Amazon in the days that followed Swaraj’s threats on Twitter. Reuters earlier reported on a portion of this correspondence.

Amazon declined to comment.

What Amazon did after Sushma Swaraj’s threats

Here are the steps that Amazon told the Indian government that it had taken:

i) On 11th January 2017, when the listing of the said products was brought to the attention of the Government of India, the matter was immediately taken up by the Ministry of External Affairs with Amazon’s India office.
ii) Our Embassy in Washington D.C., and our High Commission in Ottawa took up the matter strongly with the senior leadership in Amazon in their respective territories.
iii) Within 24 hours, the listed products were taken down by Amazon.
iv) The Ministry of External Affairs had instructed the leadership of Amazon India to strictly ensure compliance with the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 and Flag Code of India 2002.
v) Amazon India in its representation to the Ministry of External Affairs expressed regret on the listing of the said products on the US and Canadian websites of Amazon.
vi) Amazon India has conveyed that it is fully committed to respecting Indian laws and customs and has strengthened their in-house compliance units — the Restrictive and Offensive Teams, which monitor products uploaded by third-party vendors on Amazon market platforms.
vii) Amazon also carried out a global audit to ensure that such products are not listed on any of its other 14 marketplace websites located in other countries.
viii) Amazon has also informed that after the recent incident, they have made the Government of India’s Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950, Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 and Flag Code of India 2002 an integral part of the global compliance process in all 14 marketplaces of Amazon.

(emphasis ours)

Point i) is curious, since the Indian government’s very first reaction to those products seemed to come from Sushma Swaraj reacting on Twitter to someone who had tweeted a screenshot of their listings at her.

Read the full response by the MEA here.

What Amazon’s reaction shows

Amazon’s immediate and wide-ranging response was in all likelihood a very expensive exercise for the company’s global compliance teams. They leveraged teams of employees who are in place to weed out illegal and unsafe listings, and trained them to recognize products that may violate Indian laws on flag and emblem use. Amazon had already been cautious when dealing with Indian regulations and sensibilities, and this incident validated their caution.

Amazon also safeguarded itself against potential offense last year, by censoring Prime Video’s India catalogue. We reported last year that the I&B Ministry has no plans to regulate films and TV shows that are distributed on the Internet, but it seems that Amazon (and briefly Netflix) chose to err on the side of caution. Amazon is testing the waters of its censorship, though, and is testing steps to moderate the extent of censorship it has on Prime Video.

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