Amazon chemical food preservative suicides

February 2022

Amazon is facing pressure from a bipartisan set of US federal lawmakers to stop sales of a food preservative containing a chemical compound that is being used as a poison in suicides.


The internet company has come under further pressure after a New York Times investigation identified 10 people who had killed themselves after buying a chemical compound through the site in the past two years, and over 300 members of a suicide website who had publicly said they intended to kill themselves using it.


While the compound is sold legally in the US and many other countries, Etsy, eBay and some other internet commerce companies have banned its sale on their platforms. Some firms have also stopped making the products containing the compound.


Families of suicide victims have been warning Amazon of the danger of selling the compound since it became clear it was being used in suicides in 2017. Nonetheless, it has resisted limiting or stopping its sale.


The NYT also reports that Amazon's algorithm recommends other items people planning suicide typically purchase. Furthermore, Lori Trahan, a prominent Democrat lawmaker, suggested that reviews warning others about the product have been removed on Amazon.

Operator: Amazon
Developer: Amazon

Country: USA; India

Sector: Technology

Purpose: Recommend products

Technology: Recommendation algorithm

Issue: Safety
Opacity:
Governance; Complaints/appeals; Black box