16-year-old Nick Rubin created an app called Greenhouse, a plugin that lets you see where politicians are getting their money. The app is intended to “shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our congress,” Nick writes. With major internet titans like Google and Facebook selling our data to corporations and the NSA listening in, modern democracy is in dire need of transparency that goes both ways. Nick’s app is a critical step in that direction.
Nick was interviewed by VICE about Greenhouse:
VICE: Hi, Nick. So how did you come up with the idea for Greenhouse?
Nick Rubin: Back in seventh grade, I gave a presentation on corporate personhood, and ever since then I’ve been really interested in that issue. I think the one problem is that the sources of income for members of congress haven’t been simple and easily accessible when people have needed it. More recently, I’ve been teaching myself how to code, and I thought that something like Greenhouse that puts the data at people’s fingertips would be a perfect solution. It really is the intersection of these two passions of mine—coding and politics. I made it after school and on weekends on my computer.
Why the name?
Well, green is the color of money in the US, and house refers to the two houses of Congress [the Senate and House of Representatives]. The name also implies transparency; greenhouses are see through and they are built to help things thrive.
Where did you get the information on the politician’s donations?
It uses the data from the last full election cycle which was 2012. This is simply because it’s just the most complete set of data that we have. But the browser does provide access to the most up to date 2014 information by just clicking the name of the politician on the top of the window or the OpenSecrets.org link in the popup. So the 2014 data is just one click away.
What are your political views, and how are they relevant to the tool?
I want a system that works, and so do other kids my age. I want Greenhouse to be a nonpartisan tool. What concerns me is the sheer amount of money being pumped into the system because there really is a lot. During the development of Greenhouse and looking over these numbers and seeing how much is being donated—it’s really scary.
How does Greenhouse work?
It works by highlighting the name of any member of Congress on any website, and when you hover over these names a little box appears that shows detailed contribution information with amounts and where those amounts have come from. It’s basically a list of the top-ten industries from which they receive their money. My goal was to create something that promotes transparency. It would be great if people used it on sites where they’re reading about politics every day. For example, if you’re reading a piece on Congress votes for energy policy, you might see that a sponsor has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. I like to say that Greenhouse allows people to see the money story behind the news story.