Is ‘Think Dirty’ Actually Making you Think About your Decisions? How an Easy-way Access to Information could also be Misleading

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On: September 22, 2019
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Think Dirty is an app that encourages consumers to make conscious decisions while buying beauty, personal, and household products to discover whether they contain toxic ingredients. But can we trust this app when it comes to the accuracy of these products and who they are actually bad for?

Source: thinkdirtyapp.com

The app ‘Think Dirty’ was launched as a mobile app in 2013, which then listed more than 68,300 products. It describes itself as being “the easiest way to learn about ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products” (Think Dirty). According to the environmental working group, an average adult will use up to 9 different care products each day, which result in 126 different chemical ingredients being exposed to the body on a daily basis. Resulting from this, it enabled consumers to track the toxic ingredients that can be found in certain products. The app allows consumers to scan the product barcode, and then the app will provide information that is easy to understand for the consumer.

The products are rated on a scale from 0 to 10. 0 to 3 means that the product does not contain ingredients with negative health impacts, 4 to 7 means that the ingredients in the product have potential negative health effects, and 8-10 reveals products that have potential serious negative effects on health. If the product contains ingredients with negative health effects, the app will provide alternative options of products that are cleaner for the body. The purpose of the app is, therefore, to inform consumers about toxic ingredients and to allow consumers to make informed decisions about the way they spend their money and this only with the help of scanning the barcode of the product. 

Easy and Quick Access to Information

With an increase in knowledge about ingredients in products and the potentially toxic ingredients they contain, there will also be more concern about personal health as consumers make decisions about what products they will put into their body (Kim et al.). Evolving services in technologies, such as ‘Think Dirty’, helps users to “make their knowledge explicit” (Kolbitsch et al.).The increase in knowledge of products leads to a heightened confidence to switch to other products, which is also the purpose of ‘Think Dirty’. Vigan, covers the rising interest among the public in what they apply to their body. A higher consumption confidence also increases the curiosity of consumers, which is why people start using apps with ingredient lists. The increase of knowledge about ingredients in products also raises consciousness among people who care about their health. If a packaging contains a fancy name like ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, people tend to think that it will not do any harm to one’s health. However, these products can still contain toxic ingredients that can cause cancer (Kim et al.). What also needs to be taken into consideration are the main reasons why this is an emerging technique, namely that we live in a query society. People “have become hooked on retrieval tools” (Lovink 1), and search techniques have become part of our culture. Previously, information was granted by professional information providers, now this information is provided by companies that are advertising services or products (Kolbitsch et al.). The app can be seen as a retrieval tool, the scanning function gives us a quick answer on whether a product is good, or whether it should be replaced. I would therefore say that this is an emerging app, the easy function of scanning the barcode makes it easy to use for anyone that would want to receive more ‘knowledge’ on a daily basis. It only takes 2 seconds to scan it. It becomes an easy and quick access to certain information. Whether this should be seen as a positive or negative aspect, however, needs to be elaborated.

Can we Trust Easy and Quick Information?

Something that is always important to ask oneself when using applications such as ‘Think Dirty’ is to question its accuracy. It is necessary to take this into account as well as its lack of accountability. It may not always be 100% accurate, as some companies might not provide its entire context on its products and policies. The problem with ‘Think Dirty’, is that it does list the ingredients, but not the percentage of this certain ingredient. It could rate a product as a 10 (very toxic) even though it does not contain a large amount of a toxic ingredient.

Source: apps.apple.com

A product could also contain a very toxic ingredient (e.g. harmful perfumes), but the percentage of this ingredient in the product would be so low, that it would not have any harmful long-term health effects (Ruthebaillie). If this is the case, the app can be seen as misleading, as it is not giving a clear picture about the effects of the products. It would therefore not lead consumers to make transparent ingredient choices. This leads to the general issue of such scanning apps with quick answers on the topic of improving one’s health.

The app might help people with their decisions in a quick way, but people don’t know why they are taking these decisions. If people do not even take the time to search for a product and its ingredients on the internet, they will most likely not be able to learn anything about this product. Albrecht et al., have written an entire book about how users are not aware of the limits that appear when they use a health related app. There may also be errors in such apps. The information provided in apps is often not enough to evaluate whether this app is reliable or not. 

Even though the intentions of the app ‘Think Dirty’ are meant to help its users, it might not always provide users with the most reliable results. When living in a society that is seeking to find information in the fastest way possible it is always important to verify information that is found in a certain app.

References:

Albrecht, Urs-Vito. “Transparency of health-apps for trust and decision making.” Journal of medical Internet research, vol. 15, no. 12, e227, 2013. 

Exposures Add Up – Survey Results. Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/. Accessed 20 September 2019. 

Kim, Soyoung. and Seock, Yoo-Kyoung. “Impacts of Health and Environmental Consciousness on Young Female Consumers’ Attitude Towards and Purchase of Natural Beauty Products.”  International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 33, no. 6, 2009, pp. 627-638.

Kolbitsch, Josef. and Maurer, Hermann. “The Transformation of the Web: How Emerging Communities Shape the Information we Consume.” Journal of Universal Computer Science, vol. 12, no. 2, 2006, pp. 187-213. 

Lovink, Geert. “Society of the query: the Googlization of our lives.” 2009.

Ruthebaillie. “Personalized Health Through Nutrigenomics & Functional Nutrition” CALMER me, 31 Jan. 2017, https://calmerme.com/skin-deep-think-dirty-apps-for-health/. Accessed September 20, 2019. 

Think Dirty: We Empower Ingredient-conscious Consumers to Choose the Safest Beauty, Personal + Household Products!. Think Dirty, https://www.thinkdirtyapp.com/. Accessed 20 September 2019. 

Vigan, Martine. “Essential Oils: Renewal of Interest and Toxicity.” European Journal of Dermatology, vol. 20, no. 6, 2010, pp. 685-692.


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