Amazon reviewing website after features suggested bomb materials

LONDON • Amazon.com has said it was reviewing its website after an investigation found that it could help users buy the ingredients to make a bomb using its "Frequently bought together" and "Customers who bought this also bought" features.

Britain's Channel 4 News on Monday found the online retailer's algorithm was suggesting items that could be bought together to produce explosives, days after an apparently home-made bomb was detonated on the London Underground network.

The ingredients, which are legal to purchase, were included in a "Frequently bought together" section in the listings for chemicals, the broadcaster said.

Other materials that could be used in bomb-making, such as ball bearings, ignition systems and remote detonators, were available on the site, and some of them were suggested on the same page as the chemicals in the "Customers who bought this item also bought" section, said Channel 4.

"All products sold on Amazon must adhere to our selling guidelines and we sell only products that comply with UK laws," Amazon said in a statement yesterday.

"In light of recent events, we are reviewing our website to ensure that all these products are presented in an appropriate manner."

The company said it would also continue to work closely with the police and law enforcement agencies when circumstances in which it can assist their investigations arise. Amazon declined to comment further.

The explosion of what appeared to be a home-made bomb on a London Underground train last Friday injured 30 people.

Photographs on social media after the attack showed what appeared to be a device contained in a white plastic bucket. It engulfed the railway carriage in flames, although it appeared that it did not fully explode.

The terrorist attack was the fifth in Britain in a matter of months.

The news report is the latest example of a technology company drawing criticism for an apparently faulty algorithm.

Google and Facebook have come under fire for allowing advertisers to direct ads to users who searched for, or expressed interest in, racist sentiments and hate speech.

Growing awareness of these automated systems has been accompanied by calls for tech firms to take more responsibility for the contents on their sites.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Amazon reviewing website after features suggested bomb materials'. Print Edition | Subscribe