Sophie Stone
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“Mummy, my necklace has arrived!”: the perils of children and one-click ordering

How a mother in Southampton ended up with £287.76 worth of the same Disney toy. 

It started with an unexpected knock on Sophie Stone’s door. It was Sunday afternoon, and the 32 year-old from Southampton was relaxing at home when the Amazon delivery man arrived. Confused, she opened the parcel to reveal a nine carat white-gold diamond necklace, RRP £107. Had her husband bought her a gift? She rushed to ask him.

It was her five-year-old daughter, Bella, who answered her question. “Oh, my necklace! My necklace has arrived!”

In September 1999, Amazon.com patented “1-Click” ordering. This revolutionary tool allowed customers to buy things online with a single click, without the need to find their credit card or go through a cumbersome checkout process. It was and is incredibly convenient – unless you have kids.

Sophie and her daughter, Bella

“I pressed a button on that and it came,” explained Bella, when her mother questioned her about “her” necklace. The night before, Sophie and her husband had gone out and left Sophie’s sister babysitting. “If they get too much, just put them to bed with their tablets,” Sophie had instructed her sister.

Another order came to £287.76. As well as the necklace, Bella had ordered 12 (twelve) “Maui’s Magical Fish Hooks” –  a children’s toy from the Disney movie Moana – and digital copies of the movies Trolls and The Boss Baby. Using Amazon’s voice recognition service, Alexa, she had searched for and purchased the products on an Amazon Fire tablet.

Bella's Amazon orders

“I panicked,” says Sophie, “but luckily we got off lightly”. Amazon agreed to refund all of the items (should you find yourself in a similar position, see their help page on accidental purchases) and Sophie’s story went viral this week on a Facebook page for mums, The Motherload.

“I didn’t really tell her off too much because it’s my own fault,” says Sophie, over the sounds of her children playing in the background. “They don’t know what they’re doing; they’re just pressing buttons I think.”

Children’s stories are full of objects that you can press, rub, or tap to get exactly what you want – be they the Queen’s Nose, a genie’s lamp, or William’s very own Wish Wellingtons. One-click buttons across the internet have now become that magical item for many children, ready to grant them whatever their heart desires. Last January, Amazon’s Alexa ordered a child a £169 dollhouse after she asked the smart speaker: “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?”

Bella and her necklace

“I don’t think you even think about it until it happens to you,” laughs Nicola Stocks, a 38-year-old from Worcestershire. Last month, her son Jesse, then four, ordered a PlayStation game via the console’s online shop. “I was in the middle of working. I just noticed a PayPal notification come through for about £57,” explains Nicola. Jesse had ordered the Star Wars Lego Game (platinum edition).

“Being so young I don’t think he realised the implications of the fact it costs money to do that,” says Nicola, who was refunded by PayPal within ten days. Five-year-old Joe from Manchester was much luckier: he got to keep his purchase.

Jesse

“He has my phone, sometimes, because he likes to look on YouTube,” says his 41-year-old mother, Sam Hilton. “And I had the Amazon app on my phone” – she emphasises the word “had”, indicating it is now deleted – “and he ordered himself a Batman visor with a light.”

The Batman mask cost £27, plus more for delivery. “I was oblivious to this,” says Sam, whose son ordered the item on a Saturday before it was next-day-delivered on the Sunday.

“Ooh it’s my toy!” she says he said. When she checked her phone she realised Joe had not only ordered the mask with 1-Click, but had filled her basket with £500-worth of items. “It was dressing up things, like children’s chain mail… he’s only just learnt to read, so he must’ve clicked on something and all these things had come up.”

Sam found it funny, and let Joe keep his Batman toy. Like the other parents I speak to, she doesn’t blame Amazon, as most are now aware of the parental controls offered by online services. As voice recognition tools like Alexa and Google Home become more common, tech companies may face the blame for accidental orders – but for now, these stories have relatively happy endings.

Bella’s 12 Maui Magical Fish Hooks have now been returned.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.