iPhone app scans bar codes for health, enviro ratings

GoodGuide releases a free app that lets you scan an item's bar code and instantly retrieve info on that product's health, environmental, and social responsibility ratings.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

Just in time for the crazed holiday shopping season, San Francisco-based GoodGuide releases the first iPhone app that lets you scan bar codes for what the guide calls "impartial" health, environmental, and social responsibility ratings of not only the products you are scanning but their companies, too.

GoodGuide's free app lets you scan an item's bar code and instantly retrieve info on that product's health, environmental, and social responsibility ratings. GoodGuide

As our Webware staff wrote in August, "GoodGuide is the reason we have awards for tech services and products: it's a small and relatively unknown service that demonstrates real leadership on the Web." And as we report in Health Tech just this week, GoodGuide is an invaluable resource when shopping for toys, as it provides the levels of lead, mercury, chlorine, etc., that might be in the toys.

But GoodGuide's newest app is quite possibly the group's pinnacle achievement thus far. Now, instead of having to be organized enough to do your research online before hitting the stores, or using the app's 2008 iteration, which involves entering a product into a GoodGuide database on your phone, now anyone with an iPhone can literally scan bar codes while shopping.

Seriously, this could become a tick. I kind of want to spend all day scanning bar codes with the same fervor I used to pop package bubbles as a kid. As GoodGuide spokesperson Suzanne Skyvara (mother of two boys, ages 8 and 5) tells me in a delightful English accent that somehow makes everything sound healthy and socially responsible: "It's making it easier to be good. We all want to do this, but god, who's got the time to research it all?"

I envision scoffing with delight at the higher-priced products that don't actually measure up to their less expensive counterparts, a discovery likely as satisfying as catching a poker player mid-bluff. Or, conversely, I can see justifying a slightly more expensive product that is far healthier for my body and environment.

Of course, the value of such a system hinges on how good the information is. GoodGuide licensed Occipital's RedLaser bar code-scanning technology for this app and culled ratings for more than 62,000 food, personal care, household chemical and toy products and companies, and plans to add thousands more every month. Learn more about GoodGuide's rating system here.

Best of all, of course, is that GoodGuide's app is free--a fact that also sounds delightful in an English accent. All you need is the funds to own an iPhone, but that's a different story.