Idea #4: Track Internet Censorship and Ethical Violations by Fortune 5000 Companies

Idea

Create a website for tracking censorship and ethics histories of large corporations. Users can contribute specific examples of censorship by providing links to web resources that have been censored by the owning company, such as a forum posting that has been deleted. Then a link to a reputable cached version of that deleted resource is provided in order to prove the censorship, such as by archive.org or a search engine like Bing or Google. Additional annotations and user contributed metadata can be provided to additional resources & articles that further elaborate on the issues. An API can be created so that other services can integrate and mash up, to increase awareness and provide more useful services and applications.

Problem Statement

Corporations are, in 99% of cases, only loyal to their stockholders and board of executives. Most people by nature are good. But stockholders want profits from their investments, either by dividends or price growth, or both. To accomplish this, C-level executives feel the pressure to make profits for their company at all costs, even if some questionably unethical decisions are made. The government and the people represented by the government do not often hold companies liable for many unethical actions (or even questionably unethical ones) because it is notoriously difficult to manage a public driven legal effort (class action suit), assuming that laws were actually violated. For extremely large multi-national organizations (MNOs), legal cases that are lost hardly affect the profitability of the company, and thus do not necessarily prevent them from acting unethical again. In essence, many companies already have a legal budget in place for these situations. They’re expecting it, because they often know they are acting questionably unethical.

Another common problem is that companies censor any negativity against their products or the company at large, by legal threats against website owners (cease and desist) and deleting forum threads on their message boards. Companies do this to protect their “perfect image” to avoid any public discussion about the true state of a problem. This is often just a single piece of a company’s PR spin, but it’s often a very effective one.

The most effective way to punish companies that take advantage of the public in some way is to simply not buy their products. When reading any forum about how a company got away with something that people don’t like, you will see statements along the lines of “Well, if you really want to take action, then why don’t you stop buying their products?” The biggest problem with launching a large boycott against a corporation is being able to reach other people about the problem, and then centralizing an organizational effort to encourage and promote the boycott. Besides, other people who haven’t experienced the same problem will most likely not understand or believe people who are complaining about that issue.

In order to increase public awareness of companies that leech on the backs of taxpayers, consumers, and other public resources, a service could track and monitor activities that the corporations are doing. A grade or rating can be created to score corporations on their ethical behavior, and users can see a more detailed report that identifies and annotates the proof material that makes up the score.

Market

Consumers and businesses looking only to support companies that are ethical and responsible.

Revenue Strategy

  • Advertisements/Sponsorships
  • Government grants for consumer protection and awareness
  • API subscription fees for commercial applications
  • Consumer/business subscriptions for monthly magazine-like reporting, similar to Consumer Reports

Feasibility

The core product, a website with an API, can be built with very little upfront investment. Seeding the site with initial data would require hunting out instances of current and/or past examples of censorship and ethics violations, and finding ways to annotate and prove the violation occurred. This may prove to be difficult until the product has received enough public awareness, and the general consensus that this is actually needed.

Value

Founder/Employee Returns

  • Salary
  • A philanthropic effect
  • Positive notoriety in the public sector
  • Negative notoriety in the corporate sector

Public Returns

  • Safer consumer environment
  • Public interests are protected
  • Public has more collective power to punish unethical companies, and reward ethical ones.
  • Consumers can feel confident knowing that their dollars are supporting companies that are making positive change, or at least not negative change.

Investor Returns

  • There is not a very lucrative financial return for investors
  • Investors can receive the notoriety of protecting consumer interests from unethical corporations