News World Amazon algorithm guides online shoppers to buy explosives ingredients

Amazon algorithm guides online shoppers to buy explosives ingredients

The Amazon algorithm has been recommending items be purchased together that can be used to make a bomb. Photo: Amazon
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Australian authorities are assessing the threat posed by revelations that retail behemoth Amazon is guiding online shoppers to the ingredients necessary for potentially building a homemade bomb through its “frequently bought together” algorithm.

The ingredients, which are innocent household products on their own but potentially deadly when put together, are being recommended as group purchases, a Channel 4 News investigation revealed.

The British broadcaster found ingredients for chemical explosives like black powder and thermite were recommended together under the “frequently bought together” and “customers who bought this item also bought” sections.

Steel push button switches and battery connectors, as well as ball bearings – which can be used as shrapnel in explosives – were also suggested items to be bought with chemical ingredients.

Ignition systems and remote detonators were also readily available, making it simple for wannabe bomb makers to buy in bulk from the internet retail giant.

But could the Amazon algorithm pose a real threat in Australia?

“Australian Government agencies are well aware of the risks posed by chemicals that can be used by terrorists to make bombs or toxic weapons,” a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s department told The New Daily.

Because of that, and “to help prevent chemicals falling into the wrong hands,” the voluntary National Code of Practice for Chemicals of Security Concern was developed with industry,” said the spokesperson.

It gives information and help on “practical security measures” that businesses and individuals can take “across the chemical supply chain, from import to end-use.”

Warned the spokesperson, “Businesses selling chemical products through a website or email systems should have security measures in place to identify suspicious transactions and report suspicious behaviour to the National Security Hotline.”

The New Daily was able to find the ingredients for black powder and thermite on Amazon and confirmed chemicals were recommended for purchase together.

Amazon bomb explosives algorithm frequently bought together
The recommendations are determined by an algorithm. Photo: Amazon

The New Daily chose not to name or picture the labels for the items.

The recommendations are determined by an algorithm to guide shoppers to the items they are most likely looking to purchase, based on items frequently bought together.

The algorithm uses the purchase history of shoppers to suggest additional items to customers who are yet to finalise their order. By presenting the products that previous shoppers have purchased together, Amazon hopes to offer relevant items and increase the number of things it sells to each user.

Amazon told Channel 4 all products must abide by its guidelines and laws. The online giant said they would work with law enforcement agencies where necessary.

“To say I am gobsmacked is an understatement,” tweeted Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party in Britain.

The New Daily has contacted Amazon and the Australian Federal Police for comment.