Like a monster escaping from its creator, an app designed to enhance social activism has been adopted to boycott Israel. Frank Pardo, a California native who developed the app has watched as the BDS crowd discovered his Buycott app, a mobile phone bar-code scanner app that checks the social provenance of products. “It caught us a little off guard, but unless we change our policy and remove all country boycotts — including the ones of Qatar and Iran — there’s little we can do,” said Pardo.

Some consumers are doing it for him, turning the “boycott Israel” campaign on its head by using it to find Israeli products to buy.

Pardo is netural on the Mideast crisis, although he admits that he is not all that familiar with the arguments on both sides of the conflict. “It bothers me that a lot of people are downloading Buycott and thinking that it was written specifically to boycott Israel,” said Pardo. “It was not, and to counter that notion I have been actively encouraging pro-Israel groups to start campaigns supporting Israel. My focus has been on US-based issues,” such as checking if a product is made with genetically modified components.

The idea for Buycott came to Pardo a few years ago, when a friend was trying to organize a boycott of products that were advertised on the radio show of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. “She was writing down the names of products on pen and paper and trying to share them via e-mail,” said Pardo. “Bar code scanning just seemed like a better idea.” Users scan a bar code, which checks the product’s manufacturer or owner back to its parent company. Anyone can start a campaign, urging people to avoid — or support — products associated with a cause.

From Glenn Beck, it was a slippery slope to Boycott Israel. “The truth is the app has hundreds of campaigns, many with large memberships,” he said.

The largest single campaign is one to boycott products with GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients, and there are about a dozen smaller campaigns around the same theme. Altogether, the GMO-oriented campaigns, which include one to demand GMO labeling, and another urging a boycott of products containing technology by US agritech company Monsanto, have about half a million members. The boycott Israel campaign ranks second.

Product boycotts are associated in the popular mind with radical left causes, a perception that might be bolstered by Buycott’s genesis. Numerous groups boycotted Glenn Beck advertisers after the ultra-conservative talk-show host called President Obama a ‘racist’ with a ‘deep-seated hatred for white people’. In fact, the app features a wide variety of campaigns, with themes on the left, right, and center. Many of the boycotts revolve around specific products and brands like Nestle, Wal-Mart, and Coca Cola. There are many environmental and social causes as well, like campaigns against fracking, plastic bottles, animal testing, factory farming, and many more.

There are also support campaigns for causes like making cities safer for bikers, preventing human trafficking, and supporting veterans. Users can join as many causes as they want and even start their own. After they sign on, each time they scan a product, the app will indicate whether it should or shouldn’t be purchased.

Israel is far from the only country targeted for a boycott. There are campaigns to boycott Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Spain over its “tyrannical rule” in Gibraltar, Sri Lanka for its actions against Tamil separatists, China for producing unsafe products, and even France, to discourage the production and sale of fast food products in the country.

Long Live Palestine/Boycott Israel is the second largest single Buycott campaign (behind Demand GMO Labeling), a fact that makes Pardo uncomfortable — but the news isn’t all bad. “A lot of people have written to me to say that they joined the campaign not to boycott Israel, but to see which products they could buy to support Israel,” he said. Joining a campaign for a contrarian purpose is not restricted to Israel, he added. Many other campaigns — such as Boycott Coca Cola (organized to protest the company’s activities in South America and India) are getting a lot of participants who don’t like Coca Cola for their own reasons, whether nutrition or business-related.

Although he can’t put the genie back into the bottle, Pardo said he is working hard to encourage campaigns that will support Israel. A new campaign will encourage people to boycott products made in Turkey and Qatar, the patrons of Hamas, and there are already campaigns to support Israeli products and causes. “Most of the traction for the anti-Israel campaign is coming from Europe, particularly the UK,” said Pardo. The app gets about a million bar-code scans a month for all campaigns, about 60% of them from the US, and the rest from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. “Boycott Israel was developed about six months ago, but it really began to grow three weeks ago — I guess it’s understandable why,” Pardo noted, referring to the war against Hamas in Gaza.

Although dismayed by how the app has become embroiled in the Mideast crisis, Pardo said he is still proud of Buycott. “I designed it for and expected it to be used chiefly in the US, where people could express their feelings at the checkout counter when they go shopping every week, not just every four years at the ballot box. I think the app has done a lot of good, providing people with a voice for important legitimate causes — and I am really hopeful the pro-Israel community will seize on it to encourage positive campaigns to help Israel.”