The (Unintentional) Amazon Guide to Dealing Drugs

Amazon the corporate entity doesn't actually produce a guide for dealing drugs, but its purchase-recommendation algorithm sure seems to have done just that. 
Amazon

One day, some drug dealer bought a particular digital scale—the AWS-100— on the retail site, Amazon.com. And then another drug dealer bought the same scale. Then another. Then another.

Amazon's data-tracking software watched what else these people purchased, and now, if you buy the AWS-100 scale, Amazon serves up a quickstart kit for selling drugs.

Along with various scale-related paraphernalia, we find: 

This is classic data mining at work. Even if each scale purchaser only made one other drug-related purchase, when you look at the clusters, the pattern becomes obvious.

Amazon clearly did not set out to create such a field-tested kit for starting an illicit business. But looking at the list of items, it sure seems like they've created a group of products by looking at the purchasing habits of people who may not be recording all of their incomes on W-2s and 1099s. Not everyone who buys one of these scales is a drug dealer, but... it sure seems popular among a demographic in need of baggies. 

So, how long until police departments find an AWS-100 scale and request account information from Amazon?

The digital-rights advocacy group, EFF, has dinged Amazon's terms of service for its lack of transparency around how they cooperate with law enforcement: "The service is not making clear to their users what standards and rules law enforcement must follow when they seek access to sensitive user data." 

Privacy, such as it is on the web, is collective. Beware who you share purchases or click-patterns with. 

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

Just In