eBay potentially putting lives at risk with killer alarm listings

eBay is potentially endangering lives by failing to stop more than a hundred listings for a wide range of unsafe carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms from being sold through its site, new research from Which? reveals.

After its latest testing found that seven unbranded CO alarms available on eBay were unable to detect gas reliably, the consumer champion searched eBay for CO alarms that had failed its previous safety tests. It also looked for four unbranded smoke alarms bought from the site that failed to detect any smoke at all in tests in April this year.

In all, Which? found that the CO alarms that failed its gas detection tests accounted for 91 of the cheapest 200 CO alarms listed in eBay’s ‘Buy it now’ auctions, while the smoke alarms that failed to detect smoke comprised 50 of the cheapest 200 smoke alarm listings.

Shockingly, eBay has known for years that some of these products are unsafe. 50 of the CO alarms listed were the same type that Which? first alerted eBay to three years ago, while 34 of the smoke alarm listings were for an alarm that had been flagged to the site twice before – first in 2018 and then in May 2019.

While eBay removed the listings for the dangerous products each time it was notified, without an effective system to stop the products being relisted many of the alarms have simply reappeared for sale, meaning dangerous products could continue to end up in people’s homes.

Following the investigation, eBay has removed 141 alarm listings that Which? identified. All of the alarms were unbranded.

As well as eBay, Which? has found that other marketplaces are also failing to take steps to stop dangerous alarms being listed.

Despite alerting Wish to unsafe smoke alarms available on its site in May 2019, when Which? carried out a follow up check it found 125 of the cheapest 200 CO alarms, and 27 of the cheapest 200 smoke alarms, were the same as the ones that had failed its tests.

Wish has said it is working on removing the products from the platform.

AliExpress listed 134 dangerous CO alarms among the cheapest 200 on its site. The situation was just as bad for smoke alarms, with 163 dangerous alarms listed in its most affordable 200. The company has now removed these products from sale.

Amazon, on the other hand, appears to have taken effective steps to address the problem. In 2016, Which? found a comparable number of dodgy alarms listed on the site as eBay, but now they’ve all but disappeared – with only one discovered during the consumer champion’s most recent check, which it removed from sale.

Which? is warning online platforms to take the safety of their customers more seriously, given that these products are more likely to endanger lives than save them. It is making the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) aware of the findings of its investigations, as the latest example of the widespread availability of unsafe products available on online marketplaces.

People who think they have one of these alarms in their home should stop using it immediately. Which? is calling on the online marketplaces to end the reliance on sellers notifying buyers and to directly contact everyone who has purchased one of these products to alert them and to explain how they can get their money back.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:

“It’s a scandal that – even after three years of warnings – eBay still can’t manage to get a grip on preventing potentially lethal products from being sold on its site.

“Other online marketplaces are just as bad. These platforms need to wake up and make the safety of their customers the top priority, with a much more rigorous approach to keeping these products out of people’s homes.

“Unsafe products are now flooding online marketplaces. The OPSS must act to ensure these sites are more effectively policed to stem the toxic tide of dodgy goods.”


  1. How we test

    CO alarms

    Which? runs 33 different CO tests at a lab to show whether an alarm responds to the presence of CO in the atmosphere. It tests the alarms with different concentrations of the gas to replicate low-level CO build-ups, higher concentrations of the gas right up to catastrophic levels of CO. It has made seven of these products Don’t Buys based on the results of these tests.

    Smoke alarms

    Which? tests each alarm in a fire chamber with smoke from four separate fires. The fires are made up of wood, cotton, plastics and solvents, the kind of things that would be present in a house fire. It records how quickly they sound and how dense the smoke is at that point. And we test two samples of each product, which means that every brand on test is given eight opportunities to detect smoke. Which? has made four of these products Don’t Buys based on the results of these tests in April 2019

  2. eBay said customer safety is paramount and have removed the listings Which? highlighted. It said it works with Trading Standards to ensure listings are legal and has asked sellers to warn buyers and issue refunds.
  3. AliExpress also said customer safety is paramount and it requires merchants to comply with local rules and regulations wherever it sells.
  4. Wish said it is working on removing the products from the platform.
  5. Images available on request

Press Release