Friday, July 23, 2010

Wal-Mart to Put Radio Tags on Clothing to Track....What?

Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to use removable radio ID tags on individual pairs of jeans and underwear supposedly to better control inventory (and prevent employee theft):

"Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to roll out sophisticated electronic ID tags to track individual pairs of jeans and underwear, the first step in a system that advocates say better controls inventory but some critics say raises privacy concerns.

"Starting next month, the retailer will place removable "smart tags" on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. Wal-Mart workers will be able to quickly learn, for instance, which size of Wrangler jeans is missing, with the aim of ensuring shelves are optimally stocked and inventory tightly watched. If successful, the radio-frequency ID tags will be rolled out on other products at Wal-Mart's more than 3,750 U.S. stores."

The hitch is, these tags can be removed but cannot be turned off. That's gotten some to raise privacy concerns:

"While the tags can be removed from clothing and packages, they can't be turned off, and they are trackable. Some privacy advocates hypothesize that unscrupulous marketers or criminals will be able to drive by consumers' homes and scan their garbage to discover what they have recently bought.

"They also worry that retailers will be able to scan customers who carry new types of personal ID cards as they walk through a store, without their knowledge. Several states, including Washington and New York, have begun issuing enhanced driver's licenses that contain radio- frequency tags with unique ID numbers, to make border crossings easier for frequent travelers. Some privacy advocates contend that retailers could theoretically scan people with such licenses as they make purchases, combine the info with their credit card data, and then know the person's identity the next time they stepped into the store."

What's troubling also is what the store (and others like Wal-Mart) is NOT doing: to embed the sensor in clothing, and that technology seems already available:

"Smart-tag experts dismiss Big Brother concerns as breathless conjecture, but activists have pressured companies. Ms. Albrecht and others launched a boycott of Benetton Group SpA last decade after an RFID maker announced it was planning to supply the company with 15 million RFID chips.

"Benetton later clarified that it was just evaluating the technology and never embedded a single sensor in clothing.

"Wal-Mart is demanding that suppliers add the tags to removable labels or packaging instead of embedding them in clothes, to minimize fears that they could be used to track people's movements. It also is posting signs informing customers about the tags."

And an obligatory inane comment from a supposed expert:

""Concerns about privacy are valid, but in this instance, the benefits far outweigh any concerns," says Sanjay Sarma, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The tags don't have any personal information. They are essentially barcodes with serial numbers attached. And you can easily remove them.""

So as long as it benefits the business, we the 'small people' who shop and spend money to support the 70% of the GDP of the United States should put up with such a minor concern like privacy. Thank you Professor Sarma, that makes me feel proud to do my part!

The word "privacy" clearly doesn't mean a thing for the younger generations like this one, and as for the older ones, well, as long as it "keeps us safe and secure".

Like sheep and pigs tagged. They are secure until ...


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