Monday, April 03, 2006

The Augmented Barcode

Meant for mechanical eyes only, the bar code divulges little information to the shopper. But Dara O'Rourke, a U.C. Berkeley professor of labor, says that with a few tweaks, it could help foment a consumer revolution. As he explained in a World Bank Group policy paper in the spring, shoppers choosing, say, turkeys could one day scan bar codes with their cellphone cameras to find out where the birds were from, and even see pictures of the farms. The transformed bar code would call attention to environmentally friendly products and raise the consciousness of shoppers everywhere.

The idea isn't entirely fanciful. Software already exists that allows camera phones to read bar codes. And some companies have begun sharing encoded product-tracking information wit curious consumers. This year, Heritage Foods USA started providing a tracking number with every piece of meat it sells. When keyed into the company's Web site, the number provides the animal's medical and feed history. The site also features a turkey Web cam, so you can examine thee animal's living conditions for yourself.
I really like this idea of giving consumers more information when they are purchasing than just price and quality. Giving them information about the social and environmental impact of their purchases will allow them to ascertain if something is cheap because the company is smart in how they do business, or if it is due to exploiting the environment and their workers.

I hope to explore what information would be most useful to consumers to allow them to shop their values and what information would be the easiest to ascertain in future posts.

Via Heritage Foods US via New York Times Magazine

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