Donate with the Press of a Hacked Dash Button

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Donate with the Press of a Hacked Dash Button

Current events have recently turned the internet into an extreme source of sadness, anger, and frustration for many of us. Newsfeeds induce a feeling of helplessness as every passing story gets grimmer and it is unclear what you can do to help. What if there was a way to instantly do a little bit of good every time you felt upset? That is the goal of Nathan Pryor’s ACLU Dash button. It is a little button that instantly donates $5 to the ACLU from your bank account every time you press it.

Photography by Nathan Pryor
Photography by Nathan Pryor

Pryor decided to make the ACLU Dash button a reality after one of his friends made an off-hand remark about the idea of a donating Dash button. “It got me thinking: why reserve that instant gratification for physical goods? Why not push a button and do some real good?” he said.

Dash buttons, for the uninitiated, are an Amazon brainchild. They are buttons that you put around your house next to products you regularly use. Then when you run out of your favorite snack, cleaning product, or beverage you simply press the button and amazon automatically puts in an order for you. Like many people Pryor says he had “never used a Dash button before (or any IoT [Internet of Things] device for that matter), and always thought the buttons were a little silly.”


He started by ordering a customizable IoT button from Amazon. While he was waiting for it to show up in the mail he jumped into work on writing the script to make donations to the ACLU. The ACLU page doesn’t have an API so the script would basically have to load the donation form, fill it out, and submit on its own. In a clever move he bought a prepaid card for testing the script “so that any bugs wouldn’t instantly drain my bank account or max out my own card.” By the end of the day he had the script working and had already donated around $35 to the ACLU while testing everything out. Over the next couple of days as he waited for the button to show up he smoothed out the script and added a text message confirmation feature.

When the IoT button arrived in the mail the smooth sailing stopped. The button is supposed to be plug-and-play with an iPhone app and initially it seemed like the button was working. But Pryor spent hours troubleshooting. “I thought it was a problem with my wifi, with my provider blocking a certain port, all kinds of possible issues” he said. Eventually he decided to manually configure the button and it started working instantly. Then it was just a matter of spiffing up the button with a sticker and sharing his story with the world.

ACLU_dash_button_construction (1)
Ultimately though, Pryor says he was surprised how easy the project was. Though he has experience coding and working with AWS many details of the project were new to him including programming in python. Pryor says he doesn’t have any plans to expand the project or make Dash buttons that are linked to other charities but that he would, “love to see these become a real product with different organizations available”.

The actual button that Pryor made will probably end up as a gift to his friend Katherine, who made the comment that sparked the whole project. (The button will be linked to her bank account, of course.) As a word to other makers Pryor suggests, “listening to the silly ‘what if’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ ideas like this, whether they’re your own or someone else’s, and see if they might really be possible. Then go for it.”

If you want to make your own ACLU Dash button you can find the script for the button here and more details about Pryor’s process here. And you can keep following his future work, projects, and interests at his website.


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Sarah is a freelance writer for the Make: blog. She delights in the intersection of technology, art, and human interaction. Her background includes experience in human computer interaction, DNA sequencing technology, 3D printing, sewing, and large art installations.

View more articles by Sarah Vitak
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