Tech by VICE

Is the Amazon Dash Button GOOD or BAD?

A button in your house that saves the day, or a tool of the surveillance state?

by Jason Koebler & Jordan Pearson
Apr 1 2015, 12:00pm

​Tuesday,  ​Amazon announced the Dash Button, an internet-connected button that will allow you, with one press, to automatically order products from companies it partners with, from inside your home. But is the Dash Button GOOD, or is it BAD?

The Dash Button is GOOD

Silicon Valley has been fighting against friction ever since it discovered that Sir Isaac Newton's physics law makes for a good buzzword. First came digital payments, then came one click ordering, maybe delivery drones will be here one day. For now, consider the Amazon Dash Button to be the slipperiest substance the tech world has come up with yet.

Dash is an internet-connected, branded button available to ~Prime~ members that you stick on a washing machine or your toilet paper roll dispenser to signal that you are a 21st century being and no, you do not have time for this shit. Need dishwasher detergent? Push the button. Need makeup? Push the button. Hungover? Push the button, and Gatorade will come.

It turns your home into a store, more than your computer already did. Your dishwasher is now CVS. Your pantry is now a grocery store, albeit a shitty one that only sells Easy Mac. Your fridge is one of those specialty shops that sells those fake-fancy Izze lightly carbonated drinks. You're not sure how your fridge makes enough money selling those things to keep the lights on every month (and no, there is not yet a Dash Button for fridge lightbulbs). Your washing machine was already a laundromat, and I hate that you have one and I don't.

Isn't the Dash Button better and more plausible, short term, than drone delivery, which is still potentially years away? Consider two future scenarios.

In scenario one, a man is trapped on the toilet, tapping away at his smartphone and trying to open the window as an Amazon drone attempts to fly in a four-pack of toilet paper. After a highly uncomfortable 30-minute wait, the drone clips the man's siding and crashes into the bushes below, putting him back at square one.

In scenario two, the man noticed he was running low on toilet paper yesterday, hit his handy COTTONELLE DASH BUTTON—because punching a button requires no thought, no time, and who wants to click around an Amazon app when there's Candy Crush to play—and has arrived home today to a Cottonelle® Ultra Comfort Care Toilet Paper, Double Roll Economy Plus Pack, 32 Count sitting at his doorstep.

As a tech reporter, I am also very excited about the inevitable security problems with the Dash Button. I look forward to learning how Dash will be used to sell things to us and how it will be used to make coffee maker that spies on us. I am very much looking forward to reading the blog post from a researcher who uncovers the vulnerability of wiring your condom drawer to your Amazon account; I am especially looking forward to the person who manages to hack these things in order to send six thousand sponges to the home of the dude who unceremoniously left his League of Legends clan. It will be called sponging, and it will be awesome.

- Jason Koebler

The Dash Button is BAD

Let's look into the future here: Amazon is partnering with select companies to build Dash into their products. Your coffee maker will detect that it's out of beans and will automatically order more from the Dash Replenishment Service. That is, for lack of a better phrase, fucking crazy.

Futurists have been ranting about the coming of the networked home that knows your needs better than you do for ages. Now, it looks like it's all finally happening—companies will be selling washing machines, pet food dispensers, water filtration systems, and printers that can automatically order supplies for themselves by the end of the year.

Dash sure smells like the Internet of Things, and it looks like it, too. But here's the thing: Dash is totally controlled, moderated, and, perhaps most importantly, tracked by Amazon. What does that mean? Well, here are a few predictions:

Dash will not be open source. Dash will not be decentralized; Amazon will be its ultimate authority. Dash will be used to purchase products and won't do anything else. Dash will collect your information and give it to Amazon, which will then sell it to advertisers and potentially share it with governments. Dash will be available only to companies that partner with Amazon. Dash will not scale beyond Amazon's corporate interests, because it has no other function than to make money for Amazon.

Did I mention that Amazon has not yet released a single transparency report on the number of requests for user data it receives from the US government? Tech giants like Google and Twitter do release such reports, and the number of requests they receive are regularly in the thousands.

Just imagine all the data that Dash will produce about the daily lives of the people who use it—how quickly you go through rolls of toilet paper or how often you drink Gatorade will surely be of interest to Big Toiletry and the electrolyte/alcohol cabal.

On a more serious note, could Dash presses be used as evidence you were home at certain times? Do you print a radical anti-government 'zine? Dash might reveal how many copies you distribute. We won't know for sure until Dash is finally used by a trial lawyer or shady government agency. Even then, we might never know.

So, what is Dash? Is it the first step towards an honest-to-goodness Internet of Things? No. It is another node in a commodity delivery system. Nothing more. And, more importantly, it's controlled by a private corporation with a shoddy track record when it comes to privacy transparency.

- Jordan Pearson

This has been ​GOOD or BAD, a new series of dueling columns in which our staff vehemently argues with each other about things.