Amazon’s algorithm detected a product widely used by suicides… and now recommends it along with others that facilitate suicide

It is not news to anyone that the Internet giants accumulate a large amount of data about their users, nor that they turn to algorithms to deduce all kinds of relevant information about them. Unfortunately, lacking the common sense and feelings of a human being, the consequences of such information gathering can end up being dehumanizing.

Four years ago, months after suffering an abortion, a Washington Post editor had to ask Facebook and Google to please stop their algorithms from reminding her: they were bombarding her with content related to pregnancy and products for babies.

“Didn’t you see the post with the statement, which included keywords like “heartbroken”, “trouble” and “stillborn”, and 200 tear emoticons from my friends? Isn’t that something you can track?”.

However, as painful as it is to remember a death because an algorithm does not work well, it is much more tragic that an algorithm can cause deaths precisely because it works too well. And this is what the New York Times has discovered about Amazon’s.

This is how YouTube uses neural networks to choose what content it recommends you watch next

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This is how YouTube uses neural networks to choose what content it recommends you see next

Products “can be misused” (like algorithms)

According to the US media, the Amazon algorithm identified a product frequently used by suicides (a food preservative based on a sodium derivative)… and detected that many users bought it together with others that facilitated carrying out suicide.

Result? That Amazon’s recommendation algorithm then began to suggest those other products to suicidal people who bought the first one.

In the United States, as in Spain, the use of this preservative in food is perfectly legal

Already in 2019 comments were written on the Amazon page of said product denouncing that a relative had resorted to it to commit suicide and please asking the portal to stop promoting it >. “I have already notified Amazon – they said they would help with this and yet they haven’t.”

Since then the cases have not stopped increasing: 10 cases have been detected in New York alone, plus several young people (one of them a minor) from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Texas. The mother of one of them has already sued Amazon for negligence.

024 enters the list of short numbers of social interest to prevent suicide

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024 enters the list of short numbers of social interest to prevent suicide

In the United Kingdom, where there have already been several cases of suicides using this substance (and where criticism for its sale has also affected eBay), the limitation of its use has been debated. sale to individual buyers.

One of its manufacturers in that country, the Metalchem ??company, decided to unilaterally adopt this policy at the beginning of 2020. However, its CEO, Mike Kay, denounces that two years later it has not been of any use, because Amazon continues to distribute it on the Internet and worldwide.

Now, bipartisan members of the US House of Representatives have addressed an open letter to current Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, ??demanding details and proof of the actions taken by the company to respond to warnings received.

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public outreach, responded Thursday to these lawmakers defending Amazon’s practices: “Like many widely available shopper products, [this] unfortunately can be wrong. used”.

Via | The New York Times