News: Barcodes Fight Back
I love this idea. The New York Times reports that James Patten, a graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, has come up with a digital tool that can scan the bar code printed on nearly any product, and indicate whether its corporate pedigree is blemished. The Corporate Fallout Detector “combines a bar-code reader with an internal database of pollution complaints and ethics violations packed in a casing resembling a cold-war-era Geiger counter”.
Marc Smith, a research sociologist at Microsoft, has meanwhile “been developing a similar device, combining a bar-code scanner, a hand-held computer and wireless Internet access. In a grocery store near a cafe that was promoting a Wi-Fi hot spot, he tested a box of cereal by scanning the bar code and letting the computer nose around on the Internet. It turned out that the cereal had been recalled because its label failed to mention the presence of nuts, a potential hazard to people with allergies.”
Both great ideas, but why stop there. You could use barcodes — or their more powerful successors, RFID tags — to hook up with data such as other consumer comments, cheaper products elsewhere, or whatever. Suddenly the tags and barcodes that empower retailers may end up empowering the consumer…