You’re at the drugstore, trying to choose a pack of toilet paper, balancing competing factors like price, softness, how many trees were cut down to make each roll, and whether a particular brand has clever features like eliminating the cardboard tube. You’ve got enough to think about. But here’s one more thing to think about: Is your toilet paper Republican or Democratic?
A new app called BuyPartisan, currently in beta, will tell you. Scan a barcode on a product, and the app pops up statistics about how much the manufacturer–and the company’s CEO–donated to each political party. In line for your new iPhone, you might learn that Apple gives 30 times as much to Democrats as Republicans.
“We started with politics because it’s really the most guttural reaction you get from people–‘Team Red’ or ‘Team Blue’ or ‘Team I Hate the Amount of Money in Politics,'” says Matt Colbert, founder and CEO of Eyespend, the company working on the app.
“This provides more transparency in a way that’s never been done before,” he adds. “Anyone could have gone to FEC.gov or Sunlight Foundation and looked at all of this money, but it’s kind of boring to do, and you’re not going to take up your weekend to do it unless you’re a junkie on this stuff. And it’s never been in the palm of your hand.”
Ultimately, the company is working on a more complex version of the app that will reveal all of a corporation’s activities, not just campaign contributions.
“We want to shift it away from divisive politics and raise it to a deeper level,” says Colbert. “Most people don’t care about politics, they care about something else. They care about the environment, buying local, any other of a host of issues. So we’re building out a very robust mobile and web platform that will allow you to make better decisions every day.”
Of course, it won’t make shopping any simpler. Even the campaign contribution data is not clear-cut, for those who want to buy based on party lines, because most large corporations hedge their bets by donating to both parties, often in similar amounts. If millions of Americans aren’t even registered to vote, how many people will want to take the time to analyze political data in the supermarket?
Still, Colbert is optimistic that the app can make a difference. “Our ultimate aim is to allow you to match your deepest beliefs with the people with whom you do business,” he says. “If an individual can dictate what they define to be good or bad, the power of that is huge.”