Cue Cat’s Coming After You

New Orleans (5-7-01) — More than 3 million Cue Cat bar code scanners have been distributed for at-home use, according to Wired News. Wired is a Cue Cat participant, having distributed the bar code reader to its subscribers. Wired along with Forbes, Parade Magazine and others also prints the special Cue Cat bar codes in its magazine.

Cue Cat connects to your pc, letting you scan bar codes, which in turn launch relative product information on your internet browser. Scan a box of Tide and magically your browser is transported to the land of www.tide.com.

“The CueCat system turns websurfers into supermarket checkout clerks,” writes Cue P. Doll on the activist art site, Rtmark. “The dangers of choice that interactivity brings have been closed off, and though consumers feel like they are doing something (scanning is fun!) they are in fact as much passive viewers as if they were watching television commercials-it’s a one-way, closed system.”

The Dallas Morning News marbles Cue Cat bar codes across its front page every day. I emailed Stuart Wilk the Managing Editor for The Dallas Morning News about some ethical questions this raises. Generally bar codes are used to price commodities like Tide, eggs and soup. And Digital Convergence tracks the behavior of Cue Cat users, selling the information to third parties. I asked him if he thought having a branded bar code printed at the top of many of their news stories compromised the separation between editorial and management?

Mr. Wilk didn’t reply.

Cue Cat can also be hooked into a television. It’s a marketing triple play, synthesizing marketing messages from the internet, print and television. The Cue Cat website reads:

“Now there’s no need to try to remember Web site addresses as they flash on the TV screen, and hunting down information buried deep within Web pages is a thing of the past. Cue Cat instantly takes your browser to the exact information you want… whether it’s updated stock reports, sports scores, online sales, or expanded content on a particular topic or product. With Cue Cat, information can’t hide!”

The question is how are we going to hide from the information?

Cue P. Doll offers a hack of the Cue Cat at:

http://rtmark.com/cuejack/

-Harvey Wallbanger