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Facebook bans ads and commerce listings for face masks amid coronavirus panic

Coronavirus price gouging accusations
Retailers accused of price gouging amid coronavirus outbreak 04:16

Facebook announced on Friday it is banning face mask ads and commerce listings from its platforms. "We are temporarily banning advertisements and commerce listings, like those on Marketplace, that sell medical face masks," the tech giant said in a statement

Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said the changes will start rolling out in "the days ahead."

"We're monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency," he tweeted.

Online sales of virus protection products have skyrocketed, up 817% in the last two months, CBS News Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner reported on Friday. Medical supplies such as face masks and hand sanitizers have been sold at high markups on platforms including Facebook Marketplace.

"Supplies are short, prices are up, and we're against people exploiting this public health emergency," Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said in a tweet on Friday.

How coronavirus price-gouging is hurting consumers 04:24

Facebook has made a number of changes amid the global coronavirus outbreak. Last month, it said it would ban advertisements for products claiming they could prevent coronavirus.

"We already prohibit people from making health or medical claims related to the coronavirus in product listings on commerce surfaces, including those listings that guarantee a product will prevent someone from contracting it," the company said Friday. "We also have a dedicated channel for local governments to share listings they believe violate local laws."

Another change is with hashtags. When users of Facebook or Instagram click on a hashtag related to COVID-19, pop-ups for the World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC and local health authorities are provided. 

"We're focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information," Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this week. 

The company said it is also blocking potentially dangerous hashtags, promoting WHO and the CDC in search, giving WHO unlimited free advertising and removing content with false claims and conspiracy theories related to the virus.  

Do face masks really protect against coronavirus? 01:30

Facebook isn't the only platform taking action. This week, eBay announced it will block new listings and remove current listings for face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes. 

On Wednesday, Senator Ed Markey wrote an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, requesting transparency on the steps the company is taking to crack down on price gouging. The company said it is working around the clock to monitor prices and taking action on accounts that violate its "Fair Pricing" policy

"There is no place for price gouging on Amazon," a spokesperson told CBS News. "We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers."

Despite spiking prices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it "does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19." It says they should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19, by health workers and by people who are taking care of someone in close settings.

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins, there have been more than 101,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, around the world. More than 57,000 people have recovered, and at least 3,400 people have died.

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