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Amazon consumer chief rebuts claims its marketplace sells unsafe products

"You can find anecdotes to support whatever conclusion you want," he says.

Jeff Wilke, head of Amazon's consumer operations, speaks during the Amazon re:MARS conference in June.
Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images

Amazon top exec Jeff Wilke on Tuesday pushed back against news reports that uncovered counterfeit, illegitimate and unsafe products on its website.

"You can find anecdotes to support whatever conclusion you want," Wilke, Amazon's CEO of worldwide consumer, said on stage at the Wall Street Journal's annual Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, "but the vast majority of sales on Amazon are legitimate product, safe product."

His comments were, in part, a response to a Wall Street Journal investigation in August that found thousands of questionable, banned and unsafe products on Amazon, such as motorcycle helmets that didn't pass safety standards and supplements that contained illegally imported prescription drugs. That story prompted three Democratic US senators to demand Amazon review its quality controls to prevent such listings on its site.

Wilke on Tuesday said Amazon spends $400 million a year and employs a staff of 5,000 people to prevent counterfeits. But he added bad actors will continue finding ways to sell products, so Amazon will need to stay vigilant and continue increasing its spending to protect its site, eventually reaching billions of dollars, he said. He added that there are 5 billion changes to product detail pages every day, pointing to how enormous Amazon's virtual store has become, with hundreds of millions of product listings.

Wilke's comments come at a time when Amazon and other major tech companies have faced myriad challenges. Regulators and Congress are starting investigations into their potential monopolistic practices. Amazon continues to be criticized for allegedly mistreating its warehouse workers. Plus, groups of its own employees are starting to band together to fight for unionization, climate action and other initiatives.

On antitrust issues, Amazon is often derided for operating a private label business that competes against smaller sellers on its platform. Wilke, reiterating comments he made in June, said private label is something retailers have been doing for decades and its own brands account for just 1% of Amazon's business. He added that the private label business isn't given a leg up in product searches on Amazon, but it can appear in ads at the tops of search pages.

Wilke has become a more public face of Amazon, as more executives have come forward to speak on behalf of different parts of the company's sprawling business and also offer a defense of its practices.

"We are having increased scrutiny and It is important for us to make our positions clear and to tell our story in our words," Wilke said, "and I'm happy to do that."