A Channel 4 News investigation can reveal how Amazon’s algorithm can guide users to the chemical combinations for producing explosives.
Channel 4 News has discovered that Amazon’s algorithm guides users to the necessary chemical combinations for producing explosives and incendiary devices. Ingredients which are innocent on their own are suggested for purchase together as “Frequently bought together” products, as it does with all other goods.
Ingredients for black powder and thermite are grouped together under a “Frequently bought together” section on listings for specific chemicals.
Steel ball bearings often used as shrapnel in explosive devices, ignition systems and remote detonators are also readily available; some promoted by the website on the same page as these chemicals as products that “Customers who bought this item also bought”.
Users searching for a common chemical compound used in food production — which Channel 4 News has decided not to name — are offered the ingredients to produce explosive black powder.
Channel 4 News was able to create a “shopping basket” on Amazon with up to 45kg of ingredients for black powder. Under current legislation an individual may only produce 100g of black powder for private use without storage. The transaction was not completed.
Users searching the website for another widely available chemical are offered the other ingredients for thermite in a “Frequently bought together” section. These three chemicals when ignited create a hazardous reaction used in incendiary bombs and for cutting through steel.
On listings for some of these chemical components, Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought” section also offers:
Elsewhere, Amazon offers igniter cord for sale, used to ignite explosive devices and pyrotechnics. This is listed alongside an electronic ignition system that allows for remote detonations.
While many of these ingredients are not illegal to buy or sell in the UK, there have been successful prosecutions where people have bought multiple chemicals and electronic components necessary to produce explosives.
One chemical for sale is listed as a “Regulated substance” by the Home Office, making it illegal to possess it without a licence, and illegal to supply to a person without checking that the purchaser has a licence.
Yvette Cooper, chair of Parliament’s home affairs committee, said the findings were “very disturbing”.
Amazon said that all products must adhere to their selling guidelines and all UK laws. They also say they will work closely with police and law enforcement agencies should they need to assist investigations.
Channel 4 News has withheld the specific names of the chemicals, though their authenticity has been verified by experts.