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New App Lets You Boycott Koch Brothers, Monsanto And More By Scanning Your Shopping Cart

Posted by on May. 15, 2013 at 2:11 AM
  • 7 Replies

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 +1.51% programmer and congressional candidate proposed a smartphone app allowing shoppers to swipe barcodes to check whether conservativebillionaire industrialists Charles and David Kochwere 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 Industriesthrough 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, the world’s largest fiber and textiles company, 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 andGoogle GOOG +1.09% 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 ofJohnson & Johnson JNJ +1.3%.

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.

And if this all sounds worthy but depressing, be assured that your next trip to the supermarket needn’t be all doom and gloom. There are Buycott campaigns encouraging shoppers to support brands that have, say, openly backed LGBT rights. You can scan a bottle of Absolut vodka or a bag of Starbucks coffee beans and learn that both companies have come out for equal marriage.

“I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think its Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions.”

Forbes reached out to Koch Industries and Monsanto for comment and will update this story with any responses.

Update: Tuesday’s traffic surge is causing some problems for Buycott. Pardo says he’s working to fix issues with the Android app in particular. “The workload is a bit overwhelming now,” he said. “For example, our Android app was just recently released and the surge of new users today has highlighted a serious bug on certain devices that needs to be fixed immediately. So all other development tasks I was working on get put on hold until I can get this bug fixed.”

by on May. 15, 2013 at 2:11 AM
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Replies (1-7):
by Satan on May. 15, 2013 at 2:12 AM

What about my spicy Cheetos??

by Bronze Member on May. 15, 2013 at 5:54 AM
1 mom liked this
Awesome app. I downloaded it! In the morning I'll check the products in my house :s
by Emerald Member on May. 15, 2013 at 6:43 AM
1 mom liked this

I could download it to ensure I am supporting Koch.

by on May. 15, 2013 at 6:52 AM

 Oooooooooh! Where can I get that app?  WONDERFUL!

by on May. 15, 2013 at 6:55 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting Carpy:

I could download it to ensure I am supporting Koch.

 Koch. The people who are Big Oil and are working to defeat any efforts at developing sustainable, non-oil energy?The ones who spread rumors that windmill energy, wind farms are dangerous and the same ones who poison minds against electric cars and solar panels?

grrrreat. Just great.

by Bronze Member on May. 15, 2013 at 7:01 AM
1 mom liked this

I downloaded it, but there's apparently a glitch that they're working to fix. So I haven't actually been able to use it yet.   :(

I mostly plan to use it to make sure that I'm not supporting Monsanto, directly or indirectly. The church where I work gives the kids Goldfish crackers as the snack, and I'm already planning to talk with my boss about switching to something else since Pepperidge Farm (the company that makes Goldfish) uses Monsanto products. Given that we as a church have a commitment to ethical eating and environmental sustainability, it seems contradictory to then pump hundreds of dollars a year into buying Monsanto products.

by Member on May. 15, 2013 at 1:54 PM
Awesome! Downloading it now. And it's free!
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