Require Ownership Transparency in Shopify Stores To Prevent Scams & Fraud
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TLDR: Scammers use Shopify sites to exploit historically marginalized groups (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, women, etc.). Until customers do the heavy lifting to report these sites, they go unchecked and customers are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to "fake" businesses. This approach is reactive and ineffective, and it allows scammers to scam in secret.
Today, we ask Shopify to make transparent the ownership of each e-commerce site managed on their platform.
There is precedence with other platforms: In 2018, Facebook took significant steps to bring more transparency to ads and Pages on Facebook. Users can now see the name of the Company or Individual running ads via their platform.
We ask the same now of Shopify. Any organization using your platform must show publicly the Individual or Company running said site.
Here's what sparked this conversation:
A group of White men near and around Boston created the website, Made With Melanin of madewithmelanin.co and blackmagicco.com, to sell cheap dropshipped "BLM" goods.
Their marketing approached centered around using chatbots to private message thousands of Instagrammers from zero-follower burner accounts (i.e., @sandra773283oefadwn), asking them to be their "brand ambassador."
Brand ambassadors were asked to pay for their products (a scam in and of itself) and promote Made With Melanin (MWM) clothes, while MWM supported the Black Lives Matter organizations with a percentage of sales (or so they alleged).
This messaging, along with the Black woman's face for their Instagram icon and website header, and traditionally female names (Amber and Monica) for their social media bot, led many to believe this site was owned and operated by a Black woman.
But that has proven untrue.
Customers complained on Instagram and Facebook about never receiving their product, being overcharged, or not having their refund processed. The brand deleted these comments and continued with their Instagram and Facebook outreach and promotion of product.
Kimberly Renee (@itskimberlyrenee) then released an investigative video about Made With Melanin (MWM), which led to an uproar of conversation around this brand. Temporarily the MWM Instagram was banned, but their Facebook account and website remained.
In January, Kimberly combined her research with customer complaints into a 10-page report sent to Shopify, which appears to be what was used as the information needed to shut the site down that same month.
In that report, she said the following:
In June, Shopify, you said that you are “committed to elevating the awareness of Black-owned businesses to support more voices in entrepreneurship, democratize commerce, and reduce the barriers to starting a business for everyone.” I also read about your partnership with Operation Hope to create 1M Black businesses in 10 years.
“At Shopify, we believe more independent voices make commerce better for everyone. That’s why we work to break down the barriers to entrepreneurship every day,” Shopify President Harley Finkelstein said in a release. “By collaborating with Operation HOPE and working together on our shared passion for helping underserved communities succeed, we believe we can help unlock even more economic opportunities for Black business owners across the country, leading to greater choices for shoppers everywhere.”
What about the Black customer? Are you also committed to supporting trusted places for people to shop?
Without bringing more transparency and accountability, both are impossible.
Because while the light is being shone for the first time in many ways on Black businesses, non-Black opportunists are slithering their way to the front of the line to take advantage of this moment.
And as of today, you’re an enabler. And I’d like to see that change post haste.
Shopify’s mission has always been to help all people — no matter their race, religion, gender, sexuality, or otherwise — achieve independence by making it easier to start, run, and grow a business.
It’s so easy, in fact, that scammers and spammers can build networks of virtual storefronts to fleece money from already oppressed groups and have that go unchecked.
That alone disgusts me. And I hope it does you.
And this rise in scams is not just relegated to Made With Melanin.
So today we ask that Shopify to join us to bring more transparency to their platform. Let's no longer allow exploiters to exploit in secret.
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