Geotagging Protest?

Ars Technica ran this thought provoking piece on the political meaning of geotagging. The campaign of Barack Obamas proves that at least some politicos know how to make the internet work for them, and the organizational power of Facebook is by now well-publicized and global in scale. But what if when you looked up a business (an upscale animal fur store, for example) on Google maps, and the dense user-uploaded data included information on how this business obtained its fur or links to investigative reporting on the fur industry in general.

You could call it a virtual protest of sorts. Of course, I have the feeling netizens are more likely to cross virtual picket lines than they are real ones. Nonetheless, this dimension of how we relate to geo-locational information politically seems unexplored.

The Ars piece makes an even more intriguing suggestion. What if programs which use your camera phone to  identify products (like Amazon Remembers or SnapTell) also instantly told you whether your coffee was fairtrade, what kind of labor conditions it was produced under, and whether its production hurt the environment? You might re-think your decision. The article captures this dynamic exactly:

When the effort required to import political values into consumption decisions is dramatically reduced, the number of politically-conscious shoppers should increase significantly.

At the moment, barriers to reliable information remain high enough for consumers to be ethically lazy, where clear and open knowledge about a product’s back history would correct the informational assymetry. Not every consumer would be so inclined, but many without serious commitments to social justice might be more swayed by guilt. That is fine, I think. Indeed perhaps this the lever of a more benevolent capitalism: businesses chasing principled consumers for what they really want.

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