Searches of term 'Asian women' on marketplace Etsy see lewd images emerge

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With the rise of online sales, brands now have increased competition to stand out from the clutter to get their products noticed. While some may choose an appealing picture for their product listing online, others may turn to appeal to consumers' sexual appetite. But pushing this a little too far over the line were product listings found on American eCommerce marketplace Etsy, where product listings fronted by erotic and nude images of Asian women on the cover.

These listings were for a range of products, including print photos, art decor pieces, posters, postcards, and adult magazines. The listings appeared under searches of "Asian women photos" and "Asian women". In contrast, searches for "American women photos" and "European women photos" did not see such results. According to Etsy's advertising and marketing policy, the ads and promotions that merchants on its platform place are not to include content that infringes upon or violates the rights of any third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other personal or proprietary rights. Etsy also added that merchants are responsible for ensuring that its ads and promotions comply with all applicable laws and regulations. 

In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson from Etsy said: "While mature content is allowed on Etsy, we want our marketplace to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. We are working on improvements to our recommendations and search tools to avoid surfacing mature content where not relevant or appropriate."

In an article on The Verge, Etsy said that it was correcting the issue and began doing so as soon as it was brought to the team’s attention. Moreover, new controls have also been brought on board and the spokesperson said the team will continue to work on improving its algorithm.

In recent times, there has been a lot of chatter around the portrayal of Asian women in media as anti-asian attacks in the US see a spike. In light of these, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman also vowed to stand united with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.” On its blog, Etsy’s Silverman said “Racism, in all its forms, has no place in our society, culture, or company. We stand united with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community against the marked increase in violence, hate speech, and harassment that has occurred since the start of the pandemic. “

In solidarity, Etsy said it will be providing bystander training to all US employees that will equip employees to better recognise racial harassment and intervene effectively. Etsy also partnered with Asian Employee Resource Community to amplify AAPI voices, ensuring that employees have a safe space. We’re also helping staff members manage racial trauma with mental health resources on an ongoing basis.  Etsy also pledged donations totaling US$500,000 to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Asian Americans Advancing Justice in support of the broader AAPI community.

In a similar case closer to home, eCommerce platforms Lazada and Shopee were also found to have merchants using lewd pictures to promote their products on the platform early this year. The listings were promoting binoculars and spy cameras with images of unknowing women being watched, insinuating that the products could be used to spy on females in their own homes or far away on a beach. A quick check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE also saw that there were listings on the platform that promoted similar products using lewd images of the female anatomy. Several of these listings have since been removed from the eCommerce platforms, after they were alerted of such activities. 

While it is unclear if Etsy has clear guidelines prohibiting merchants from using lewd pictures to promote their products, Lazada and Shopee told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE previously that both platforms have strict guidelines for merchants that they cannot list sexual imagery for their listings. While Lazada said product listings are found to contravene its policies will be removed from the platform, Shopee said it has a "zero-tolerance approach towards errant and offensive listings", and will not hesitate to take appropriate action against sellers who do not abide by its stipulated guidelines. 

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