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Is Amazon’s algorithm cashing in on the Camp Fire by raising the cost of safety equipment? | WIRED UK

Amazon’s algorithm has allegedly been raising the price of fire safety equipment in response to increased demand during the California wildfires. The practice, known as surge pricing, has caused products including fire extinguishers and escape ladders to fluctuate significantly on Amazon, seemingly as a result of the retailer’s pricing system responding to increased demand.

An industry source with knowledge of the firm’s operations claims a similar price surge was triggered by the Grenfell Tower fire. A number of recent price rises coincide directly with the outbreak of the Camp Fire, which has been the deadliest in California’s history and resulted in at least 83 deaths.

At the time of the Grenfell tragedy, the source claims an Amazon manager noticed the algorithm attempting to change prices of fire safety equipment and prevented a price surge from happening. The same source described how Amazon has tasked managers to guard against such algorithmic missteps.

Despite these apparent safeguards, the prices of a number of fire safety devices have surged in the wake of the Camp Fire. The price of a First Alert fire extinguisher, which was being sold directly by Amazon.com, changed at least five times on November 8, the day Camp Fire broke out. Its price peaked the following day at $25.32, up 18.3 per cent on the price it was retailing for at the beginning of the month, according to data from price tracker Keepa. Fellow price tracking app CamelCamelCamel reveals a third party seller has kept its price for the same extinguisher consistent at $19.92 throughout November.

A 12-foot long ResQLadder fire escape ladder sold by Amazon jumped in price 22 per cent from $96.49 to $118.06 on November 8. Price rises have varied significantly in size with some only relatively modest.

A fire extinguishing aerosol spray made by First Alert and sold by Amazon increased in price from $12.77 to $13.79, an increase of $1.02 (7.98 per cent) on the day Camp Fire began. The prices of some fire safety equipment being sold directly by Amazon have remained unchanged.

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Is Amazon’s algorithm cashing in on the Camp Fire by raising the cost of safety equipment? | WIRED UK.

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