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11:09am on Sunday, 5th February, 2006:

Press Here


Our local Co-op store has a button linked to the till. On it, it says something to the effect of "by pressing this button, I verify that I am legally old enough to buy whatever it is I'm buying". It can't be switched off, so even people in their 90s have to press it when buying cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets.

Or the News of the World.

For some reason, the bar code for the News of the World is among those flagged to require a button press before it can be sold. I know it's sometimes racy and all that (today's front page features Dannii Minogue in a lesbian embrace, or, if you're cynical, a "lesbian" embrace intended to rescue her career from the doldrums), but still, not letting children buy it seems a little over-paternalistic. It's clearly a mistake, or so you'd think; the person in front of us in the queue said it had been going on for months now, such that the days when she used to send her kids to the shop to buy the News of the World on a Sunday are now long gone.

It's an odd thing anyway, a button to verify age. If you're not old enough to buy ciggies, you're not old enough to be prosecuted for buying them, either. It's actually a defence system for the shop, so that if they do sell tobacco to someone under 16 they can't be sued for not having asked — they did ask, via the button. The fact that a 4-year-old could reach and press it is irrelevant.

The same applies to software, of course. All those wrappers saying that I agree to the licence when I install it are worthless if I don't press the button but I get one of my children to do it. They can't be prosecuted for breaking the agreement because they're too young, and I can't be prosecuted because technically I didn't enter into the agreement myself.

I don't know what I'll do when the childrne reach an age where they could be sued for breaking a software-implemented licence agreement. Maybe I'll get a cat.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).