Power to Conscious Consumers: Transparency Comes to Online Shopping

Online retailers and brands spend billions of dollars on advertisements targeted directly at you. Facebook alerts them to what you like. Dictionary.com sells them the words you look up. Nine of the top ten health sites sell them lists of conditions and illnesses you research. In many instances, retailers know your age, gender, marital status, and income as soon as you land on their site. Naturally, they gather this data to show you products they want you to buy.

But on the flip side, what do you know about retailers? And what do you really know about the products they're trying to sell you? Are they healthy and safe? Made responsibly? Retailers aren't particularly interested in letting you know since it might jeopardize their ability to sell.

But what if you could level the playing field by adding information to the shopping experience that provides a more complete picture? For example, suppose while visiting sites like Amazon.com, Target.com or Walmart.com you could also instantly see whether products you're shopping for contain chemicals linked to cancer, genetic mutations, or ADHD in kids. Or whether brands treat their workers fairly, test on animals, and responsibly use water and energy.

That level of transparency has arrived. Recently, the scientists and engineers at GoodGuide.com developed a Transparency Toolbar for online shopping. The toolbar appears at the bottom of the screen while on a shopping site and instantly reveals whether products are safe, healthy, green and socially responsible. It enables you to select the issues you deem most important and then shop according to your values. And it suggests alternative products that match your personal criteria -- be it high nutritional value, organic certification, safe ingredients, or energy efficiency.

Any free-market loving capitalist will tell you that transparency is crucial to an efficient, functional economy. Without complete information, consumers cannot send accurate demand signals to suppliers about what they truly want and, therefore, what suppliers should produce. The Transparency Toolbar not only enables people to shop according to their values about their health and the health of the planet, but also eliminates distortions in the marketplace occurring as a result of retailers' and brands' unwillingness, incapability or lack of commitment to provide complete information about the products they want you to buy.

Transparency is the most powerful catalyst for creating a thriving economy that operates in accordance with our most deeply cherished values. It cuts through marketing spin, greenwashing, and the multi-billion dollar effort to mold our product preferences. It puts power directly in the hands of consumers, which is precisely where it should be.