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Handheld Activism


David at It’s Not a Lecture has some interesting thoughts on iPhone apps and activism:

Tech-savvy and issue-conscious consumers will be getting information not only about how a given product is a buck cheaper down the road or online, but also anything a database of that consumer’s choosing says about the product, brand, or company. And remember, this information comes just moments before the point of purchase, giving the company almost no time to share its side of the story. So when I tried Good Guide I learned that the makers of my breakfast cereal “violated the Clean Water Act.” I never got a link to the company’s explanation.

So think about the databases out there. Think about current events and politics. It’s not just review sites/apps like Yelp (dealing with a somewhat iffy reputation lately). It’s not hard to imagine a mobile app that tells you:

  • If the CEO of the company that made a product contributed to Proposition 8 (Human Rights Campaign could probably tell you)
  • If the manufacturer is headquartered in Arizona, where you can now be pulled over for looking Hispanic (I’m thinking National Council of La Raza might be interested)
  • If a company is a “union buster” (just a matter of time before SEIU launches this bad boy)
  • Class action lawsuits filed against a company (ATLA, anyone?)

Building a comprehensive, accurate, and huge database for mobile apps to access takes time, talent, and resources. Even the Red Laser database isn’t all-encompassing. However, it’s not nearly as hard as it used to be. Some database developers may sacrifice a bit of accuracy to get more volume or speed. Some will probably be built by crowdsourcing – my favorite crowdsourced database comes from the brainiacs at Cornell who helped put the Great Backyard Bird Count online. In the not-too-distant future, government databases will be accessible from your phone – a company’s EDGAR filings with the SEC, actions brought by the EPA, and so on.

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