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Thursday, September 03, 2009

A question of ethics

As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I am a member of a free web site called Walker Tracker.  The purpose of the site is to give people who use pedometers a place to log, track, graph and compare their walking stats.  It is a really nice place, and over the course of a few friendly competitions/challenges, I've started to enjoy the sense of community that exists among the walkers from around the world who gather there.

One of the neat functions of the site is that for each time you log your steps, meet your goals, win a challenge, etc., you are awarded a few points.  When you accumulate a certain number of points, you move up to the next level.

Each time you move up a level, you are awarded a small bank of extra points called 'giveaway' points that you can gift to other users of the site to help them reach the next level.  All in all, it is a very nice system that feels like a game, but actually keeps the motivation level of the users very high and lends a sense of community.

Here's where the ethical question comes in.

When I reached the last threshold to move up a level, instead of the site awarding me the usual 30 or 50 giveaway points... it gave me 4,294,966,915 giveaway points.  No joke. More than four billion points!

Now, if this were an ATM machine that suddenly started to spit out money, or a banking error that suddenly deposited 4 billion extra dollars into my account, there would be no question what I'd do.  That is not a victimless crime and someone would be held responsible for that money if I didn't return the money.

But walker tracker is a site where the points are made up out of thin air by the site-operator.  They aren't even analogous to 'Monopoly Money' because there is no winner in this game... and having more or less points does not put anyone else on the site at a disadvantage.

However, it still feels wrong.  Theoretically I could use the points to catapult myself to the highest level (I'm currently at level 9 of 21), or I could monitor my friends on the site and gift them points whenever I see them coming close to a new level... y'know, just to give them a little boost .

I've been tempted to contact the site operator to tell him about the error that gave me over 4 billion points.  But I'm wondering if that would make me a really good guy... or a sucker.

What do you think?  And more importantly, what would you do in my place?

Posted by David Bogner on September 3, 2009 | Permalink

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You would be an ethical guy. Real $$$ or not, you're pointing out an error in their software (or humanware :-)) which will help them maintain the site. No "friar" worries here. You'd be doing the right thing.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Sep 3, 2009 3:22:31 PM

I would absolutely contact the site.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Sep 3, 2009 3:23:47 PM

It's a game. If you're not going to insist that the rules be followed, what's the point of playing? How can you even enjoy receiving points if they are now meaningless? Contact them.

Posted by: Russ | Sep 3, 2009 3:33:17 PM

I'd tell Ben about the points simply because he'd want to know about the code error. If it gives too many, maybe it will sometime not give enough which would be sad.

That said, i'm not sure he'd take them away from you (if he's even able) but he would appreciate the heads up.

Posted by: shoshana | Sep 3, 2009 3:54:41 PM

hmm, I just don't see the point of 'give-away' points in this context.
the whole concept is that you need to 'do something' to get points because that 'something' is good for you.
so even if the billion point defect is corrected - conceptually I think any amount of points to give away is odd.

Posted by: weese | Sep 3, 2009 4:02:50 PM

This is a great Elul moment. The question of sucker or non sucker is the wrong one. Do you really need that kind of approval? A better question, IMHO, is if you can't overcome resistance to return meaningless points, how much more difficult will it be to overcome resistance to giving back something of real value?

Posted by: lrg | Sep 3, 2009 4:18:55 PM

Tell the guy. It is clearly a bug, and the injection of a few billion extra points "devalues" the points, and could actually lessen the extra motivation they give.

Posted by: Jonathan | Sep 3, 2009 4:20:59 PM

In my experience, if something feels wrong it usually is.

If it bothers you enough to raise the issue - address it.

Posted by: Y Danzger | Sep 3, 2009 4:44:44 PM

Well, you already know the answer, because you are an ethical guy. If life were strictly a physical exercise, then it would always be smarter to look out for Number One, and for worldly (even virtual) interests. But once one accepts that the physical world is just a manifestation of the eternal spiritual world, then many choices become clear. Since nothing happens by accident, and all occurrences are at least partially engineered by Hashem, then most ethical questions become easy tests to pass.

At least, these ethical questions. Please G-d, don't ever test me as you have tested Noam and Aviva Shalit... Please make all my tests virtual. May it be so for everyone here.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Sep 3, 2009 6:19:15 PM

I'd give them back.

To me, it would be like using a cheat in a game. I only use them when I'm screamingly frustrated otherwise I just enjoy the game play. Using the points would take the fun and the challenge out of the site.

I know I feel better about a game when I play it clean...

Posted by: Jim Smith | Sep 3, 2009 6:29:37 PM

You might not be the only person receiving bogus points. Report it,and get a Thank You.

Posted by: ED | Sep 3, 2009 7:39:59 PM

I would contact the website but only after I had given all my friends some points.
Joking of course (regarding the second half of my suggestion).
A walking buddy

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Sep 3, 2009 10:16:45 PM

I'd contact the site, being really curious how this happened...

Posted by: Tzvi208 | Sep 4, 2009 12:21:08 AM

Now, if this were an ATM machine that suddenly started to spit out money, or a banking error that suddenly deposited 4 billion extra dollars into my account, there would be no question what I'd do. That is not a victimless crime and someone would be held responsible for that money if I didn't return the money.

If I received $4 billion dollars by mistake I would be sorely tempted to buy a few islands and invest a couple of bucks. Heck, let me live off the interest for a while. That would be hard to turn down, but I suppose I would.

No reason not to tell these guys about the bug.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 4, 2009 3:58:39 AM

Now, if this were an ATM machine that suddenly started to spit out money, or a banking error that suddenly deposited 4 billion extra dollars into my account, there would be no question what I'd do. That is not a victimless crime and someone would be held responsible for that money if I didn't return the money.

If I received $4 billion dollars by mistake I would be sorely tempted to buy a few islands and invest a couple of bucks. Heck, let me live off the interest for a while. That would be hard to turn down, but I suppose I would.

No reason not to tell these guys about the bug.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 4, 2009 3:58:40 AM

David: Chedva and I have discussed your ethical dilemma. You could succumb to the pressure applied by these other posters, but why be a freyer? If you add up all the steps you have walked since birth, apply bonus multipliers for the steps walked and strokes swum in defence of the liberty and freedom of the greatest nation on earth, add special reward points for the blessed steps upward to the holiest land on earth, and tack on extra special points for the steps walked patrolling your own community to secure the peace and security of your neighbors, the way we figure it.....they still owe you a billion points.

Posted by: Alan T. | Sep 4, 2009 4:32:54 AM

I'd report the bug as well. I learned a bit of ethics using the site myself. There were probably too many people to notice, but I stopped towards the end of the last competition. My numbers had been looking better and better, and while I was doing more walking, they seemed way high. After trying a few different things, I found that where I was placing the pedometer, it was catching (adding) when I would "bounce" my leg, which I do a lot. So the numbers were not true measurements. I didn't want to win the prize that way, so stopped logging anything so I wouldn't even be in the running. I'll have to re-evaluate where to put the pedometer, then I can start the fun again.

Posted by: JDMDad | Sep 4, 2009 4:58:21 AM

Even if they are just points on a website, if you didn't earn them then they aren't yours. Give 'em back. Besides, you'll be doing the site admins a favor by letting them know there's a problem with the points system.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Sep 4, 2009 6:48:54 AM

For what it's worth, that number looks like the total number of steps walked by the community as a whole.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Sep 4, 2009 12:20:53 PM

For what it's worth, that number looks like the total number of steps walked by the community as a whole.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Sep 4, 2009 12:20:54 PM

Why does stuff like this always seem to happen to you??

(But, personally, I'd keep the points and never walk again. :-) )

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by: Baila | Sep 4, 2009 5:58:42 PM

I suspect that you have already made a decision. I know what it is and I'm not telling.
;P

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Sep 5, 2009 8:01:59 AM

Contact Ben (after you give me 50... :) )

Posted by: rickismom | Sep 6, 2009 1:20:01 AM

A little math:
2^32 - 4294966915 = 381

It looks like the system tried to give you -381 points, and it "overflowed". Why it would try to give you negative points in the first place, I don't know, that's the bug. Ask a computer science major for more details.

Posted by: Shlomo | Oct 4, 2009 10:50:28 AM

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