Should kids have the power to ‘buy it now’?

I was watching a rerun of Dragon’s Den when I heard a young boy make the case for a feature that many web brands are now rolling out – a “buy it now” button.

It was intended for kids to order what they saw on the TV using the TV remote. Even with the prevarication that the child would have a limited budget versus a wide open credit card, this just seemed wrong to me. I was very glad when the dragons did not buy into it – Kevin O’Leary turned it down with enthusiasm.

“What’s the difference between this and all the cable TV channels that sell crap on TV?” he said. “It sucks, it’s horrible.”

Marketing organizations love the idea of a “buy it now” button. But should developers second-guess them and try to ensure the public is protected from themselves? Google announced a “buy it now” button for selected merchant mobile apps in July 2015. And there is a widget with the PayPal “Buy It Now” button.  Everyone is making it very easy for the public to shop online.

The part that made me uneasy was that children were now going to shop with the TV remote when their parents were not necessarily there. Is this a good thing? We already have people saying that TV is not good for children and especially not the TV ads. Now we are going to enable this with an easy shopping method? Would you want to be the developer of something that harmed children?

So my reaction was that this must be ethically wrong and I should be able to say no. If I were asked to build or add such a button, I should be able to make an ethical argument that as a professional I could not do something like this that is harmful to the public.

The CIPS organization provides a code of ethics for IT professionals, and it does say to protect the public.  On the other hand, I am also supposed to be a competent professional that will do the right thing and practice “intelligent disobedience.” My customer should not have to convince me that every little thing they are doing is right. Is this really a serious enough matter that I must take a stand?

I realize that just because I don’t build it, does not mean it will not be built. In fact, it has already been built and we are just talking about adding it one more place. Still, good ethics means I do what is right and hope that eventually enough people agree and it makes a difference.

On the other hand, we already know that there are members of the public that will like this idea. Some will argue that giving a child an “allowance” and having them learn to choose and budget is a good thing. That parents have the responsibility to protect their kids if they think something is too advanced for them. Buying things is what runs our economy. It is necessary and the easier we can make it, the better.

I agree that making tech easier is a serious responsibility of IT professionals. And I try not to make decisions for other people. So “saving the public from themselves” is not a valid argument unless you see those kids as being harmed by TV.

I made the choice when my kids were young to allow them TV and to monitor what they saw. I didn’t think the evidence there was strong enough to deny them. This extra ability to shop may make that TV even more addictive. So I reserve the right to change my mind.

But for now, I guess my “ethical dilemma” was resolved in favor of the “buy it now” button.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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