The popular food delivery company Hungry Button was forced to change one of their promotional programs after numerous students at the University of Rhode Island violated the company’s terms of use.

Hungry Button has both a website and a smartphone application where customers can order delivery from various restaurants. Hungry Button recently instituted a feature where users could send an advertisement to their contact list in order to receive dough. Essentially, dough is money that users build over time in order to purchase food that is free or at a reduced cost.

Users received a small amount of dough for each contact they sent the advertisement to. The advertisement consisted of messages encouraging recipients to use the website or smartphone application.

Several students have voiced complaints that Hungry Button has prevented them from using the free dough they acquired through this program. However, Devin Sheehan, the owner of Hungry Button, said this is because they acquired the dough through fraudulent use.

Sheehan said approximately 20 to 30 URI students created fake phone numbers to acquire excess amounts of dough. He said creating fake phone numbers to increase the number of advertisements one could send was a violation of the company’s terms of use.

“They had no limitations,” Sheehan said. “They didn’t realize what they were doing. I have no comment directly to those students.”

Sheehan said some students also sent hundreds of the advertisements to students who do not go to school in the areas served by Hungry Button. Since many of the contacts that received the advertisement do not live within Hungry Buttons coverage area, the advertisement was not relevant to them.

“We were hoping students would invite their closest friends who they went to college with,” Sheehan said.

The students who took advantage of the ability to earn free dough were identified and blocked from being able to use the website. Sheehan cited using fake accounts as a violation of the terms of use.

“We could detect and block fraudulent use,” Sheehan said.
The terms of use, which are posted on Hungry Button’s website, do not specifically mention how students can or cannot accumulate free dough. However, the terms of use broadly gives the company a large amount of discretion in regards to how users can and cannot use the website and smartphone application.

Because of the initial difficulties, Hungry Button now limits how many contacts a user can send the advertisement to and still receive free dough. Users can now receive 25 cents in dough for the first 25 contacts they send the advertisement to.

While dough allows users to purchase free food, it does not mean that the food is completely free. Rather, Hungry Button has to pay the restaurant for the food, which is why they had to limit how much free dough a user could accumulate.

“When we send that free dough, we’re paying [for] that dough,” Sheehan said. “That is money out of our pocket.”

In general, Sheehan said many other students sent the advertisements out to a more reasonable number of contacts. This allowed the company to gain exposure through word-of-mouth, which Sheehan said is a valuable way to gain business. Users who sent the advertisement to contacts as the company intended were allowed to keep their dough.

“I like the app because it’s simple and straightforward,” sophomore Alison Castaneda said. “The format is easy to use.”

Sheehan said any students who are currently blocked from using the Hungry Button website or smartphone app but want to be reinstated can reach out to the company. He said if they pay back the free dough they acquired through the use of fake numbers, they may be able to agree to reinstatement.