I’ve had this idea for a while, but want to get it down on ‘paper’ so people might be able to take the idea and sort it out. I could probably hack together the software side myself (not quickly, it’s a big job), but there’s a huge need for hardware and legal back-up to get it to work properly which I don’t have.
It combines three technologies, but aims to solve the problem of knowing how to be good. In short “should I buy this product”, “how does it sit with my values”. For example you may decide that you don’t want to buy any products from Heinz (as I don’t), but Heinz are a large company – it’s not always obvious in the supermarket which company ultimately owns which brand. Or despite the labeling, how can you really work out the food miles in some products?
In this system you can use your mobile phone to scan the barcode (already possible on the Nokia N95, but you could write an image processing app for most camera phones that are coming out onto the market now) and a small application on the phone interfaces with a website to give you the information as to whether the product sits in your ‘ethical space’.
You would have to sign up to the site and set ‘ethical sliders’ showing your views on different issues (animal welfare, economics, food miles, fair trade, local issues) and also your home area (for calculating some distance based ethics). You could then get a personalised yay or nay on each product you were unsure about.
Two potential problems here – collecting and updating all the information, which would hopefully be solved by using a very tight database and allowing users to add information on each product (if a barcode wasn’t in the database , you’d get some sort of message asking you to help populate the information). Luckily I think that a lot of this information is already collected by campaigners and if it was easy enough to add to the database on the site it could be filled up quite quickly. The other main problem is the litigious nature of major corporations, this product would have to have some very good PR and legal back-up, and be prepared for a long fight.
The project could self-finance in a number of ways, for a start there would be a wealth of accurate and self-entered data on shopping requirement that could be used for research (and sold perhaps, once de-personalised – the ethics research itself could act as a pressure on retailers and suppliers), the site woudl also be able to offer very tightly focused advertising online (even on the phone app itself, IN the supermarket, offering an alternative product that did fit in with the ethical map of the user).
It’s a social web-app, a wiki-database- and mobile technology. It’s very clever I think, technologically possible now and broadly speaking very 2.0. It just needs a cool name.