Open letter to GS1 : The Benefits and Potential of an Open GEPIR

December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Dear GS1 and GS1 Member Organisations,

For over 40 years, GS1 has succeeded in creating a unique and standard identifier, what we know as the barcode, for the vast majority of commercialised products.  Through your 108 Member organisations operating across more than 150 countries, you have succeeded in simplifying trade in complex global markets. However, the rise of internet and communications technologies has meant that GTIN codes, the unique and standard identifier for products created to serve the needs of manufacturers and retailers, now has uses not imaginable 40 years ago.

In 1999, you created the Global Electronic Party Information Register (GEPIR), a system that permits consumers everywhere to verify the validity of GTIN codes by allowing users to discover the company hidden behind the barcode. Anybody, anywhere can use GEPIR to verify the company that registered the first 6-10 digits of the GTIN, the Global Company Prefix (GCP), a number unique to an individual company, and therefore trace products to their owner. For example, using GEPIR, using the GTIN code on my Coca-Cola bottle, 049000000450, I am able to discover that the GCP “0049000” is assigned to “Coca-Cola USA Operations”, a legal entity based in Atlanta, USA. In global markets, it is often difficult to know where individual products come from or who registered them, making the GEPIR system invaluable for conscientious consumers. We are aware that GEPIR also serves to help combat the use of illegal GTIN codes and recognise that GEPIR is an incredibly power tool that permits companies and consumers alike to trace the origins of the products they buy.

Despite being limited to 30 requests per day, GEPIR has always been free to access. Recently, however, we noticed that GS1 France changed their access policy, closing their repository to the public and creating “premium”  access for companies willing and able to pay (See Article). While we were still able to trace French products using the US GEPIR, we worry that closing the system to the public to offer premium access might become a trend, a trend we see as bad for the consumers and bad for GS1. We are proposing a different trend and urging GS1 to open up rather than close off.

For the last 40 years, the GTIN code has been used primarily for supply chain management purposes but in recent years we have seen barcodes used in myriad of smartphone applications. Changes in technological capacity has meant that the GTIN code can be used in ways unimaginable 40 years ago and while it was never intended to be used in mobile applications or as a communication channel for companies, it is evident that GTIN codes will continue to be used in new and innovative ways in the years to come. That being said, at the moment, use is limited by the closed nature of your current system.

For over a year now, we have been working to understand and build an “Open GEPIR”. In order to truly capitalise on the potential of GTIN codes, an open product database is necessary and building a reliable database requires quality data. GEPIR is essential both to verify the quality of our data and in linking individual products to the company that produced them. GEPIR is the key to unlocking the potential of Open Product Data and creating genuine traceability and transparency in supply chains. We have made a good start (see our current progress here) but only you, GS1 and your member organisations, can provide comprehensive data dumps and real time synchronisations of data-flows.

We urge you to join us in enabling innovation in the product space and capitalising on the potential of the system you have built. We ask that you make open data part of your 2014 strategy!

Seasons Greetings,

Philippe Plagnol and Open Product Data Working Group

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