Let’s say you’re some sort of weird dickhead who wants to hurt people by setting off a homemade explosive, but you don’t exactly know what ingredients you’ll need in order to instill a feeling of lifelong terror in the people you don’t kill outright. Amazon — the place where you buy bulk toilet paper and bed risers — has some helpful suggestions for you.
As the UK’s Channel 4 first discovered, Amazon’s listings for ingredients commonly used in DIY bombs are often accompanied by “Frequently bought together” suggestions for the exact chemicals necessary to turn relatively harmless substances into viable weapons.
This doesn’t happen in 100 per cent of cases obviously. Plenty of things can be used to cause harm, but are more strongly associated with their intended uses: pressure cookers, for example, all seem to be bought with cookbooks and kitchen utensils. Lawn fertiliser pairs with other horticultural products.
Buy a large quantity of a certain pure agricultural chemical, however, and Amazon will nudge you towards five pounds of aluminium powder. Combined, the two are similar to TNT.
Another chemical with legitimate scientific uses points buyers to magnesium wire and, again, aluminium. Those are the necessary components for thermite, a compound which burns at around 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here’s a filter reagent, the main ingredient of which can be combined with glycerine to make a lot of flames. And there’s Amazon suggesting exactly that recipe. Wonderful.
And lets give a honorable mention to the petroleum distillate Naphtha, which Amazon intuits you’re more likely to use for refining a schedule 1 psychedelic drug (rather than lighting a camp stove), based on its suggestion of pure lye.
Look, we get it. Amazon’s architecture is sprawling and its suggested items are likely automatically generated by users purchases. But maybe you should make sure you’re not tacitly encouraging customers to make explosives. Amazon told Channel 4 that all its products must adhere to their selling guidelines and local laws, and the company will work with law enforcement if needed. We’ve reached out for further comment and will update if we hear back.