Want to Steer Clear of Monsanto? 'Buycott' App Shows You How

Tens of thousands flock to download app that lets users shop more conscientiously.

A new app, Buycott, helps users avoid companies that support issues or corporations they disagree with. Many are using it to boycott Monsanto and the Koch brothers. (Photo: Buycott)

May 17, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Don’t bother trying to download the Android version of the new Buycott smartphone application today. It’s not there. The company’s website even went down earlier this week.

It’s all because a deluge of media attention sent droves of people from around the world to the company’s website to download the free app, which allows consumers to buy products consistent with their values—simply by scanning a product’s barcode.

And it appears the ability to shop for food conscientiously is a main reason folks are flocking to the app.

Here’s how the app works: First, users join campaigns boycotting business practices that violate their principles—such as products made by Big Food companies or corporations that have fought GMO labeling. When an item is scanned, “Buycott will then trace the product's ownership back to its top parent company and cross-check this company against the campaigns that you've joined before telling you whether it found a conflict,” according to the company's website.

But when numerous articles popped up in media around the world this week, the company wasn’t quite prepared for the crush of traffic from consumers looking for a simple way to boycott Monsanto or companies run by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch. At its peak, the free app reached No. 10 in the Google Play store as requests for the app exceeded 100 downloads per minute, according to a posting on the company’s Facebook page explaining why the app had to be temporarily pulled down. According to Buycott’s developer, 26-year-old Ivan Pardo of Los Angeles, the company is in the process of migrating to a server configuration that is capable of handling the traffic.

“We’re absolutely humbled by the response to the app,” Pardo tells TakePart. “We can’t wait to have it running in a more stable state. We’ll be working around the clock for the next week or so until it’s complete.”

The developer admits the app, which is still available for iPhone, is far from perfect. Corporate structures change, for instance, and it’s impossible for one company’s knowledge base to correctly categorize every retail item. Buycott is already receiving feedback from users on social media.

“How can we let you know about a company that you have listed as having no conflicts, but that does have a conflict?” one user writes on the company’s Facebook page. “Burt’s Bees’ parent company is Proctor & Gamble, and they conduct animal testing. The app currently says it doesn’t conflict with the animal welfare campaign.”

Even still, the ability for users to join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices, rather than simply avoiding individual companies, is impressive. When you join Demand GMO Labeling, for example, and scan a product, the app tells 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.

The app could also be used to support companies that back GMO labeling or brands that are strong on LGBT rights—like Starbucks.

“The app isn’t angled at any particular set of beliefs,” writes app reviewer Phil Hornshaw at Appolicious.com, “but instead empowers you to make choices about who you give your money, regardless of where you stand on issues.”

Would you download the Buycott app to help you make more values-driven purchases?