What Are the Ethical Implications For Creating a Habit-Forming Product?

An addictive product should at least provide value to the consumer and improve their lives. E-mail is a good example. Candy Crush -- not so much.

If you're Walter White, creating and peddling an addictive product probably doesn't ring any ethical alarm bells in your head because... well, you're Walter White.

But what if you're Mark Zuckerberg or the guys who created Snapchat? How about the developers of games like Candy Crush or Farmville? Each of these innovations prey on the attention spans of prospective users and consumers. Habits form; money gets made.

Forbes contributor Dorie Clark has a piece up right now all about how to create an addictive product. In determining what makes something particularly tantalizing, Clark tackles the ethics issue:

"Pushing heroin (or its digital equivalent) is a lucrative business, but one that ultimately preys on others’ vulnerabilities."

She interviewed Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Create Habit-Forming Products, and asked about the rights and wrongs of additive innovation:

“I have this two-part test that I give entrepreneurs regarding when it’s morally OK to create a habit forming product,” says Eyal. “I tell innovators that if it’s something that you believe materially improves peoples’ lives and you, yourself, use it…go ahead.” The reason creators have to use their own product, he says, is that “if there are any negative effects to this product, you’ll be the first to know.”

That's an interesting and seemingly sound way of looking at it. While I'm not sure how often Mark Zuckerberg logs into Facebook, it's hard to argue that there aren't at least some ways it offers a marginal or substantial improvement to users' lives. Pay-to-play mobile games, on the other hand, is a harder sell.

What's your take on this topic? How would you justify releasing an addictive product? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Read more at Forbes

Photo credit: icsnaps / Shutterstock

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