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Amazon reviewing its recommendations for bomb-making materials

The company's investigation follows similar incidents involving Facebook and Google using automated algorithms that brought on problems.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Amazon said Wednesday it's reviewing its website after a British TV station found the company may have been helping people buy bomb-making ingredients through its "frequently bought together" feature.

The report from Channel 4 News said Amazon's site would recommend customers buy together combinations of elements required for making crude bombs. In one instance, Amazon cued up a recommendation for ball bearings on one page for a potential bomb-making ingredient.

These products all appear to be legal to purchase and can typically be used for food preparation and other household needs.

The incident points to the problems that can arise when major tech firms rely on automated -- but sometimes flawed -- algorithms to operate parts of their sites, in hopes of providing more personalized or useful information. Amazon, the world's largest online store, has over 300 million product pages on its main US site, a number that's likely too big for human workers to monitor and update effectively.

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

The representative added that the Seattle e-retailer will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies when needed to assist in their investigations.

In addition to the issues found in the UK, The New York Times on Wednesday said it uncovered similar issues with the US site.

In a similar example last week, Facebook faced criticism for allowing advertisers to buy ads targeted to self-described "Jew haters" and other anti-Semitic terms, ProPublica reported. Facebook said its ad categories were automatically generated. BuzzFeed followed up with a report that Google was allowing ads to run based on racist keywords.

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