Etsy vows to crack down on banned items amid investigation

Weapons, ivory and bogus cures are on sale despite Etsy policies.

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Etsy is toughening its enforcement of policies on banned goods. Gizmodo reports that Etsy said it will spend a minimum $40 million to improve its policy enforcement this year in the wake of an Insider investigation that found about 800 listings that violated marketplace rules prohibiting the sale of certain items. The funding will help widen the coverage of content review teams "tenfold" by the end of 2021, and should help the company both adapt its policies and catch violators using technology like automatic bans and image recognition.

The investigation discovered offerings that clearly ran afoul of Etsy's rules, including weapons, hoax COVID-19 treatments, elephant ivory products and even mass-market items that were passed off as homemade. The added spending doesn't appear to have been in response to the investigation, but Etsy was clearly keen to make its commitment public.

The company also deleted the listings for the products in question.

It's not certain how the items slipped past Etsy's screening, although the company told Insider that it used a mix of automated, manual and community reporting to catch offenders. Trust and Safety lead Corinne Pavolvic stressed in her blog post that Etsy's enforcement would likely "never be fully automated."Etsy wanted to "keep commerce human," the leader said.

Etsy isn't alone in grappling with banned items. Amazon has spent years fighting counterfeits, for instance. Some of these violations are flagrant, though, and underscore the difficulty of creating an enforcement system that's effective while keeping accidental bans to a minimum. Neither automated nor human-led approaches currently strike that balance, and Etsy's expanded enforcement isn't guaranteed to help.