For $5, Amazon’s Dash Button is supposed to be a dead-simple way for Prime subscribers to replenish household goods, but a seemingly simple hack has turned it into something much more interesting.
Ted Benson, cofounder and chief technical officer of spreadsheet tool Cloudstitch, discovered last week that a short Python script could repurpose the button to automatically fill out database entries. In his case, he retooled the Dash Button to make a note whenever his infant son had filled a diaper.
There’s a certain level of irony here, given that Amazon sells a Huggies-branded Dash Button that ships a new box of diapers to your doorstep with every press. In an infant’s early days, tracking bowel movements is arguably just as important as making sure you’re fully stocked with fresh diapers, but Amazon’s buttons are only designed to deal with the consumption side.
The trick to hacking Amazon’s button—beyond intentionally not completing the setup process to avoid ordering any products—lies in the way it wakes up and establishes a network connection with every press. A small Python program allowed Benson to detect the button’s MAC address (essentially a unique device identifier on Wi-Fi networks) and plug it into a program from Cloudstitch that sends spreadsheet data to Google Sheets. Upon each button press, the program then posts some pre-defined text, in this case “Poopy Diaper,” along with a timestamp to the spreadsheet.
If all that sounds too complicated, Benson says he may create a program that automates the hacking process with a single click. We’ll have to see if Amazon can figure out how to stop this type of circumvention in the meantime.
Why this matters: In theory, a cheap Internet-connected button could have all kinds of uses, from toggling smart lightbulbs and door locks to triggering music playback on your home speakers. While devices like Bttn (roughly $75) and Flic ($35) can also do this, the Dash Button is much cheaper, as it’s clearly a low-margin (or even loss leader) product for Amazon. The hack is a clever reversal of Amazon’s singular focus on buying stuff, at least for now.
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