In her keynote speech at last year's annual Netroots Nation gathering, Darcy Burner pitched a seemingly simple idea to the thousands of bloggers and web developers in the audience. The former Microsoft MSFT +0.94% programmer and congressional candidate proposed a smartphone app allowing shoppers to swipe barcodes to check whether conservative billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch were behind a product on the shelves.
Burner figured the average supermarket shopper had no idea that buying Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper or Dixie cups meant contributing cash to Koch Industries through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific. Similarly, purchasing a pair of yoga pants containing Lycra or a Stainmaster carpet meant indirectly handing the Kochs your money (Koch Industries bought Invista, one of the world's largest fiber and textiles companies, in 2004 from DuPont).
At the time, Burner created a mock interface for her app, but that's as far as she got. She was waiting to find the right team to build out the back end, which could be complicated given often murky corporate ownership structures.
She wasn't aware that as she delivered her Netroots speech, a group of developers was hard at work on Buycott, an even more sophisticated version of the app she proposed.
"I remember reading Forbes' story on the proposed app to help boycott Koch Industries and wishing that we were ready to launch our product," said Buycott's marketing director Maceo Martinez.
The app itself is the work of one Los Angeles-based 26-year-old freelance programmer, Ivan Pardo, who has devoted the last 16 months to Buycott. "It's been completely bootstrapped up to this point," he said. Martinez and another friend have pitched in to promote the app.Pardo's handiwork is available for download on iPhone or Android, making its debut in iTunes and Google GOOG +3.26% Play in early May. You can scan the barcode on any product and the free app will trace its ownership all the way to its top corporate parent company, including conglomerates like Koch Industries.
Once you've scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen. Scan a box of Splenda sweetener, for instance, and you'll see its parent, McNeil Nutritionals, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson JNJ +0.77%.
Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.
Deciding to add that campaign to your Buycott app might make buying your breakfast nearly impossible, as that list includes not just headline grabbers like agricultural giant Monsanto but just about every big consumer company with a presence in the supermarket aisle: Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft, Heinz, Kellogg's, Unilever and more.
Buycott is still working on adding new data to its back end and fine-tuning its information on corporate ownership structures. Most companies in the current database actually own more brands than Buycott has on record. The developers are asking shoppers to help improve their technology by inputting names of products they scan that the app doesn't already recognize. …
Cool, I got the app and looked at the campaigns. With a click I’m now one of the 20,641 people who demand GMO labeling.
It has only 2 stars in the Apple App Store, seemingly due to it not working for barcode scans seemingly due to server problems. Could it be bad planning for the amount of interest, or are they under a denial of service attack from one of those super rich companies they want to financially impact?