That third-party seller on Amazon might not be a person at all ー but a machine.

Critics slammed for selling Christmas ornaments, bottle openers and other trinkets that featured scenes of the Auschwitz concentration camp ー all made by a third party seller called "Fcheng." But those products might be the result of an algorithm doing exactly what it was programmed to do: match results from a search for "popular travel destinations" with results from "top landmarks in the area," so that companies can create sure-to-sell tchotchkes.

The Amazon Marketplace is home to a collection of sellers that list an infinite number of derivatives and varieties of a basic product, using algorithms to create combinations in the hopes that one of them will attract a lone buyer looking for an obscure niche item. Juozas Kaziukėnas, founder of Marketplace Pulse, a company that analyzes e-commerce, told Cheddar that oftentimes, these sellers do not carry any inventory at all, instead creating the products only when they're ordered. The practice is common for items like mugs, T-shirts, PopSockets, and anything else printable.

"Since these products, in reality, do not exist. There can be an infinite amount of them," said Kaziukėnas.

It's similar to buying a basic product like a portable charger in different colors ーthe internals remain the same, but the outside can be any color (or, in this case, picture, design, or graphic) desired. And rather than listing the trinkets as a single product available to customize, every possible combination is listed on Amazon.

A closer look at the "Fcheng" brand and seller, Jollin's Shop, shows page after page of similar holiday trinkets, all with unwieldy, search engine optimized names like the "Fcheng Denmark Faroe Islands Christmas Ceramic Ornament Tree Decor City Travel Souvenir Double Sided Snowflake Sublimation Porcelain Hanging Ornament"

"There's virtually no cost in hosting a product on Amazon," said Kaziukėnas. "It costs the same whether you have one product or 100 million products."

Cheddar has reached out to the third-party seller Jollin's Shop, for comment.

Third-party sellers are increasingly critical to Amazon's bottom line. In a report released this May, Amazon stated it was working with more than 1.9 million small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. alone. The number of businesses that earned more than $1 million in sales through Amazon grew by 20 percent in 2018, according to the report.

And there's no sign that this part of Amazon's business is set to slow. Its latest third-quarter results included a 27 percent increase in third party sales year over year. And a 2018 survey by Feedvisor of mostly U.S.-based Amazon sellers found that 47 percent of those sellers generated almost all their revenues from Amazon.

The Auschwitz-themed products were removed by Amazon following a social media backlash spurred by a tweet from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.

An Amazon spokesperson said to Cheddar in an email: "All sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account. The products in question have been removed."

The latest fiasco is far from the first to hit e-commerce giants, seemingly spurred by bots behaving badly ー in 2017, an Amazon seller listed products that used a bizarre series of what looked like stock photos on phone cases, including one that depicted a heroin-filled syringe and another that featured an old man wearing an adult diaper.

Kaziukėnas says the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon ー much to Amazon's chagrin. While Amazon also deploys its own algorithm designed to filter offensive images, it too lacks the contextual awareness needed to catch a product like that before it reaches the Marketplace. "These products were for sale on Amazon for months before anyone noticed, so it took an actual expert in the field, the Auschwitz Twitter account, to actually know the issue and point it out to Amazon," said Kaziukėnas.

Amazon did not address this in its response.

"As much as Amazon is to blame, they're also [faced] with policing hundreds of millions of products created on Amazon every day," said Kaziukėnas. "These issues are inevitably going to happen again."

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