I was recently pointed (thank you, Slashdot!) to an interesting list of companies supporting and opposing the ludicrous “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) in the USA. This has been widely-discussed by others more eloquent and well-informed than I, but it threw up another interesting issue. My immediate response was to scan the list for companies I am likely to patronise and note their allegiances. Problem: there are hundreds of them. And this is just one issue. How is one to keep track of the behaviour of every company out there? I don’t want to trust existing NGOs and campaigners for specific boycotts; indeed, I may not want or even be able to boycott these companies. However, if choosing between two roughly equivalent purchases that satisfy my needs, I am happy to let my own interests and principles swing the decision a little. What I seek is not an instruction, but an informed choice. I’d like to think I’m not alone.
When it comes to politics and elections there are some excellent resources available; in the UK, They Work For You is a great way of keeping track of how politicians actually vote, and actions speak louder than the words turned up by a casual internet search. When it comes to frequent consumer choices, it is not practical to carry out research every time you pick up a tin of tomatoes. It would be nice it you could have a brief summary readily available; something cross-platform that can be prepared while fuming away at the desktop, and actually used from a smartphone while out and about.
The user would be able to enter lists of companies with a brief note and some kind of arbitrary positive or negative score associated with an act. A comparison page could then be requested to aid a particular choice. Lists could be shared, naturally, but if so then some kind of citation is needed for alleged offences. The most committed users could decide in advance to how many “ethics points” a cost difference is worth. It should even be possible to get the manufacturer name automatically from a scanned barcode.
Databases and smartphone apps are areas I know little of, but I’d love to hear how feasible this would be. I can propose a name at least; it could be called “iMoral Dilemma“