CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

App warns when you're buying from immoral companies

Commentary: Nudge For Change is a new app that tries to hold you to your principles. Good luck with that.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Now, you can have your moral guardian with you when you're out shopping.

Getty Images/Ikon Images

I generally find that the most tantalizing human trait is hypocrisy.

None of us is consistent. All of us, though, wants everyone else to be.

This is especially true when it comes to morality. Twitter, for example, couldn't exist without moral trolling.

Along then comes a new app with sanctimony in its heart and a moral challenge at its core.

It's an app that nudges you just before you're about to spend money with a company that's immoral -- according to your stated principles, that is.

Nudge For Change, which launched Thursday in Apple's App Store and is coming "soon" for Android, doesn't actually use the word "immoral" in its promo materials but does say the app will help you "calibrate" your "moral compass."

Specifically, the app asks you to determine your principles and calls you on them before you besmirch your soul.

You enter the parameters of your moral compass by swiping right or left, Tinder-style, on various selected issues. Meanwhile, the app has already scored a whole host of companies on a 1 to 10 scale of moral goodness.

Nudge For Change creator Aaron Hayes specifically cares about such issues as sustainability, LGBT equality, equal pay, racial justice and workers rights.

What, though, if your morals actually conflict with each other?

"They do. And often," he told me. "The point of Nudge is to augment your awareness of what's around you."

I'm not sure I like much of what's around me. I suspect that everyone's up to no good. I just don't always know what bad they're into.

Hayes is all too aware of this.

"Sadly, this often means learning that even the greenest company treats their employees badly, or that sometimes there are no good options. We don't tell you what to do. That's your call, we just try to make you aware that you have choices, and leave the rest up to the user."

It's as if a liberal and a libertarian had a baby. What, though, drove Hayes to offer this reality check?

This is your conscience speaking.

Nudge For Change

"I'm a career IT guy who just had enough after the election," said Hayes, whose company is based in San Francisco. "I sat down and thought about what is likely next -- millions of people looking for a way to do something, but with no idea what to do. I figured, instead of saying stand up, go to protests, memorize these lists, scan those barcodes, and get involved in everything, I'd offer an option that you can put as much or as little energy into as you wanted."

I began to respect his self-awareness, especially when he admitted: "I care, but I'm lazy."

How can you know, though, if Hayes himself isn't just some twisted politico looking to bend minds? He told me that users can track the sources on which the app bases its scores.

"You may not agree with our conclusions, but you can see exactly why we said it," he said. "If you don't agree, you can always add that business to your 'no nudge' list in the app and we won't bug you about it again."

Ah, so you can suspend your guilt anytime you want.

The idea here, of course, is to get retailers to change their moral standards. This may seem gloriously naive, but the world is ever evolving. And people can at least hope for, if not demand, slightly more goodness from companies.

Currently, there's a small catch in the app. It only works in physical stores, so you can still exercise your duplicity on Amazon and buy the painfully immoral underwear you've always craved.

If you're wondering which companies have a moral backbone -- according to the app -- and which have dark souls, I'll offer you a tease.

On the dark side: Hobby Lobby and, oh, Chipotle. On the side of the angels: Ikea.

Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.