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I'm finding myself in a significant minority here, which is always an interesting time to stand back and reflect. I hope this post doesn't come off as a troll; I am genuinely curious where my beliefs diverge from the majority.

I cannot understand why Sam's charity raising has raised such an outrage. Here is why.

First, what he did was within the bounds of the experiment. Johnathan provided the Starbucks card to be used in any way people saw fit. Did he take advantage of some flaws within the system? Sure. Did he use it for something that it wasn't expected to be used for? Yes. But that makes him sound closer to a hacker than a thief to me. [1]

Second, this outcome is significantly better than what had before been believed when the $100 drops were noticed on the account. Most people (myself included) figured people were just lifting money from the account for their own means. On the moral spectrum, donating money is about as far away as possible from that suspicion.

The facebook page also fails to elucidate me.

Someone says (paraphrase) "no one should be able to appoint himself the arbiter of how someone else's money should be spent." But isn't Jonathan (or perhaps the Starbucks corporation) dictating this by requiring them to put money on a Starbucks Card - not a VISA card, for instance?

Another person says (paraphrase) "Sam is donating other people's money without their consent." Didn't people give up any control they had over their money by putting it on Jonathan's card in the first place?

Or maybe it's just because (paraphrase) "Sam is flaunting how smart of a hacker he is." If so, I missed it.

To be honest, and unless someone can point out where I am wrong, what Sam has done impresses me more than the initial concept of the card itself. If I had donated $10 to the card and it had instead gone to charity, I would have been fine.

[1]: One definition of hacker: "A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary." Taken from the Jargon File.

Edit: One last thing. I tried to make this post as anti-inflammatory as possible, and if you think I failed, please let me know why.




Hi johnfn.

I routinely have such discussions with my two ASD sons. They are not wired to readily comprehend social expectations. I do a lot of explaining. There is research out there on how "social contracts" get enforced as a moral issue and how violating the socially expected thing gets really extremely negative reactions even when the way the (typically) unstated social contract is violated falls clearly within the explicitly stated rules of a system. My best explanation is that most people don't do a good job of constructing effective rules so the social mechanism for attempting to enforce order anyway is to express moral outrage -- ie make it dangerous -- when someone violates the implied social contract, never mind that it isn't a violation of the actual stated rules. The friction inherent in this situation is part of why laws are enforced by judge and jury -- ie human judgment has to take over to make up for gray areas not explicitly covered by the stated rules.

Anyway, I apologize as I am sure I am butchering my point. I am sharing the observation for your edification because I largely agree with the logic of your post (edit: I agree with your logic even though I am someone who thinks what Odio did is asinine -- my innate wiring is that of a hippie tree hugger, much to the amusement of my sons who aren't wired that way at all, so I do find such things unpalatable, yet I think the solution is "make better rules, damnit" not "react with moral outrage when someone who is wired different from you plays by the rules but does something you wouldn't have done"). I don't imagine my observations will go over any better than yours, so the post is basically intended for you and I hope it is good food for thought for your purposes.

Peace.


Firstly, Sam's antics would've been a good discussion if he had taken out $10 out of it and given it to a charity. But the sheer scale of 'hack' i.e. to take a grand total $600 out of the card when the average single expense on the card is hardly $20-40 is plainly out of the way. In my personal opinion, that was never the part of the experiment.

Secondly, the idea that he actually makes a blog post which suggests buying an iPad and then ends up advising to donate it to a charity. It all makes everything very fuzzy. What exactly are his intentions ? Is he just trying to link-bait? If he done something similar with the penny tray, I am sure he would've been taken to the cleaners by the people alongside him.


His taking the money and auctioning it for charity DID make the experiment more interesting, but I understand the anger.

Partially, it's the amount he took took, as you say. $100 would have been more reasonable.

I think it was also Sam's tone in his blog post. Perhaps buying strangers coffee is not as worthy as buying food for starving children, but it made people feel good. Sam essentially dismissed it.

I think that's mean spirited. There's a lot of needs in the world, and different people are interested in different things. Do we really want to get into a debate over whether giving money to MSF is better than an animal shelter?

Indeed, I can both donate to stop hunger AND buy a stranger a coffee.


I think both the original Jonathans Card post and Sams post are blatantly obvious link-bait. Also, people clean those penny tray things out all the time. You just don't hear about it because there are tens of thousands of them and no one tray contains $600++


what he did was within the bounds of the experiment

I still don't understand how this is supposed to make anything okay. The experiment was set up to see how people dealt with a system inherently fueled by some combination of altruism and curiosity. I personally assume this means that, among other things, it is looking at some measure of morality. Thing of it is, you can't really construct an experiment about morality or something like it without making immorality (or something like it) within the bounds. (Or, more accurately, you could attempt to but then you'd also be dealing with a measure of how people respond to authority and similar which complicates things.)

Secondly, I think I could say just as easily that being an asshole is well within the bounds of US law. Yet, people tend to respond negatively to people being assholes. What is allowed and what is "right" or "good" or whatever are two entirely different topics.


When you're doing an experiment, you want to see what actually happens rather than what would happen if everyone did the "right" thing. Thus, doing the "wrong" thing (that is within the bounds of the experiment) is a "good" thing, because it shows how and where the system fails.

Your "secondly" part isn't exactly correct, because the US law is not an experiment that people are voluntarily participating in. Its purpose is not to see how things would work. Its purpose is just to work. People don't like it when it doesn't.


It's tricky, because "experiment" doesn't necessarily mean you're following the scientific method and its levels of rigor.

Some people "experiment" with leaving produce at the side of the road and having a trust based money box for people to pay. If someone takes all of the produce without paying one day, the experimenter isn't necessarily going to analyze it scientifically and be happy at the seeming failure, but instead think "I can't trust people enough - experiment's over."


I think the reason that giving the proceeds to charity is seen as so offensive is because the implied social contract was that people could use the card at Starbucks to buy something and they could contribute back if they felt like it.

Even though Sam's intent to donate to charity is noble, the means by which he set out to achieve this lacked nobility. He took advantage of something that was on the honor system and acted dishonorably by violating the conditions under which the card was to be used. Unfortunately the original Jonathan's card page is no longer around, but as I recall it stated you could use the image to make an in-store purchase or use the number to reload the card.

Using the number and brute forcing the PIN (if I recall correctly) to siphon money off of the card and then use those funds to do something other than the stated purpose goes against the implicit social contract that everyone was participating in.


I don't get the nobleness. If he wanted to donate to charity, why didn't he do so with his own money? He basically took other people's money from an honor system, intended for solely different purpose and decided to donate that. How is that noble?

He just decided this honor system is not to his liking and decided to screw it up. That makes ou an a*hole. After all this time, not realizing his own douchebaggery just makes him look like a pretentious douche bag. The worst kind.


He did use the money to buy something at Starbucks; he bought a gift card.

We talk a lot about game mechanics, and games have economies. The interesting stuff often happens where the game economy and the real economy intersect (gold farming for instance).

I think the error is really Starbuck's. They probably shouldn't allow a gift card to be bought with a gift card.


I think most of us thought it was a nice gesture to give coffee to strangers. Sam did not agree with us and decided to stop it.

I do agree that it is within the bounds of the experiment. The experiment proves that Sam is a bully who will spend time and effort to ruin the joy of others for his own personal gain.

The fact that he attempted to donate the money to charity does not justify his actions. If he wanted to he could have just donated $600 without ruining the joy for the rest of us.


We have to decouple the idea that "It was within the bounds of the experiment" from the question of Sam's individual action within that. Any judgement about the final outcome is a judgement on Johnathan Stark's idea.

Sam's own actions have to stand on their own, and I have several problems with them:

1) Being a veteran of the industry Sam had to have known his actions would place the experiment at risk, bringing the goodwill to a halt. That was self-serving.

2) His actions were a misdirection and hijacking of the spirit of the experiment. The experiment was about a coffee card, not a general charity fund, not there for any one person to take over and repurpose. Sure, it was an experiment, part of which might have been stated: "How long can this last before some self-serving jerk ruins it for everybody?" Well, now we know.

3) The whole thing smacks much more of a the kind of self-aggrandizing stunt to be expected from a serial entrepreneur, rather than either real altruism or an interesting culture jam. The "yuppies buying yuppies coffee" line was laughably hypocritical.


>Sam's charity

giving your own money away is charity, redirecting somebody else's money isn't a charity, it is management at best theft at worst


Not to mention the fact that the Starbucks money, due to it being put through eBay of all things, will have eBay and PayPal fees deducted, and the final bid might not even come close to $600 because the nominal value of a card isn't exactly dictated by the amount put on it.

So unless someone is nice enough to tie up $600 of their own money in coffee just to redress that balance, this Odio fella has just wasted it for the sake of what, self promotion?

I'd say he did it remaining startlingly unaware of the potential consequences and didn't actually think anything through beyond taking the money.

Finally, since he posted his code on github, how do we know other people didn't use it and take money themselves? And how much?


So all the charities setup that either a) give away money by a rich donor - e.g. Carnegie, etc. or b) request donations (e.g. for a major crisis) and allocate it how they see it fit, would be considered what?


you're misreading it - there is act of charity and there is charity organization.


It's clear that there's a difference between organisations setup to receive and manage charitable donations and something that is essentially part of the commons.

Not sure if you genuinely misunderstood, or you're just being quite boringly pedantic


It seems you are trying hard to rationalize Sam's actions.

> Did he take advantage of some flaws within the system? Sure. Did he use it for something that it wasn't expected to be used for? Yes.

Ethical hackers don't take advantage of flaws, they usually try to fix them or disclose them privately in a responsible manner.

> Most people (myself included) figured people were just lifting money from the account for their own means. On the moral spectrum, donating money is about as far away as possible from that suspicion.

Did you consider the possibility that he did this for his own benefit? Instant fame and "moral exhibitionism" come to mind...

> Someone says (paraphrase) "no one should be able to appoint himself the arbiter of how someone else's money should be spent." But isn't Jonathan (or perhaps the Starbucks corporation) dictating this by requiring them to put money on a Starbucks Card - not a VISA card, for instance?

Jonathan isn't forcing anyone to put money on the card. People chose to put money on the card to contribute to the experiment. Feeding African children isn't part of the experiment.

> Another person says (paraphrase) "Sam is donating other people's money without their consent." Didn't people give up any control they had over their money by putting it on Jonathan's card in the first place?

They did give up control legally. We're talking about morality here. People expect their money to buy someone else a coffee.

> If I had donated $10 to the card and it had instead gone to charity, I would have been fine.

Most people aren't fine with that. If I want to give to charity I give to charity, if I want to be part of this experiment I put money on the card.

How Sam spends the money is completely irrelevant in my opinion.


> Did you consider the possibility that he did this for his own benefit? Instant fame and "moral exhibitionism" come to mind...

I wouldn't even give Sam that amount of credit. I think the charity donation was an out. A way to get him out of this mess with a minimum of damage to himself. If he hadn't skimmed such a huge sum of money I doubt he would have even gone public about it. I'd imagine he was sitting in a coffee shop, all sense of morals put to the side as he was getting giddy about his cool script that was making him free money. Only after he walked out the door with $600 in pocket did he realize what he had done.


Calling something an "experiment" isn't an invitation to screw it up.


That's why it's called an honor system. It's based on trust. Not on any guarantee that it can't be circumvented. Of course it can. But if you do, I fail to see how that wouldn't make you an a*hole.


Well.. as someone else pointed out already: Johnathans Card is a social experiement. If we can all agree on that then anything arising out of that is a result of that experiment. This includes the intended use of 'yuppies treating other yuppies to coffee' and Odio's unexpected snatching of funds. People's outrage is also an outgrowth of the experiment just as much as your comment and this very reply I'm typing to you. We can go as meta as we want here.

I join others' in disappointment with Odio's abusing the card beyond it's original stated intent per Johnathan. He may feel it's justified but that's up for each person on their own to decide for themselves and he doesn't seem to understand that. And yes, people are giving up control. But when people give money to a school with the intent of it going to a new building and the school does something else with it, you (the giver) have a right to be pissed.

How about if you gave to one cause and someone routed it to a different one they felt was more worthy. Even though most people will argue that Odio's charity IS more worthy, it still doesn't give him that right to decide. If it were money going to WWF and he rerouted it to The American Cancer Society, again, you'd be pissed.


> Johnathan provided the Starbucks card to be used in any way people saw fit.

I don't think this is true. I think the only thing he says you can use the card for is to buy a coffee. He certainly failed to prevent the card from be used in any way people saw fit, and maybe that amounts to the same thing.


If you have a take-a-penny-leave-a-penny jar, and somebody comes and takes 500$ worth of pennies. Do you think they are possibly abusing the system?

Or if someone said "Hey guys I brought this cake in for everyone to have some." and then someone later said "Oh, I stole the cake because I have some friends who wanted some cake. In fact they wanted the cake more than you guys, so I'm glad that you didn't get any".


You're spot on with that analogy. This is in the same way that if you were given an invitation to a party, you would hopefully not turn up with 50 of your own guests.

Well you'd hope that wouldn't happen. Because when it does, it's normally through Facebook and people gaming/cheating the tools it gives you to a similar point. Because people can.


What Sam did was pure genius in a self promotion kind of way. Some people may not agree with his tactics but clearly he knows how to act on opportunity. The lynch mob on Facebook is somewhat out of control, and spans the spectrum of intelligence one would expect to find there. People who are calling for Sams arrest over this are just going overboard.

I completely agree that this is more a hack thing than a theft thing, it's within the bounds of the experiment.


Within the spirit of the experiment? Jonathan himself says no: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/web/08/12/jonathans.card.ha...

I don't see this as self-promotional. Jonathan's open letter now ranks on the first google results page for "Sam Odio". I think this will have a hidden effect on Sam's career. Any hiring manager or venture capitalist worth his salt will learn about what Sam did, and make a value judgement on Sam's character. You only need to look at the Facebook page to see this means bad news for Sam: https://www.facebook.com/jonathanscard


Not in the spirit no, but still part of the experiment. I honestly don't think Sam is going to get much heat over this from people who matter in his life. Most smart people will look at it from the experiment POV and not the emotionally charged theft and wire-fraud angles.


> I honestly don't think Sam is going to get much heat over this from people who matter in his life

I agree with you there. Although as an outsider looking in to Sam's life with only this one saga to judge him by, I'd call him a morally bankrupt snake (emotionally charged - yes, but my truthful gut reaction).


I'm going to go ahead and disagree. Sam's a disruptor, in this case on a huge scale, and there are plenty of pople out there willing to bet on someone who can disrupt a market with a combination of guile, foresight, skill and a complete and sociopathic lack of moral solvency.


It doesn't look like you're disagreeing except perhaps as to his likelihood to get hired. If this industry really is about hiring anyone who can get the job done regardless of their ethical standpoint, then I'm really in the wrong place.




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