Friday, October 21, 2005

RFID: CASPIAN Wal-Mart Protest

From a CASPIAN press release:

More than 70 Texans converged on a Dallas Wal-Mart Supercenter this past Saturday to protest the store's RFID tagging of consumer products. Armed with anti-RFID signs and singing "We don't like the looks of spychips sittin' in this Wal-Mart store," the group worked the sidewalk adjacent to the store's parking lot, handing out literature to passersby and waving to drivers who honked in support of their stand.

The protest, organized by the consumer privacy group CASPIAN, was sparked by Wal-Mart's use of RFID tags on Hewlett-Packard printer/scanners being sold in its stores. Placing RFID tags on individual consumer items, a practice known as "item-level tagging," has been widely condemned by privacy experts since 2003. Wal-Mart's use of RFID on these items disregards the recommendation of over 40 of the world's leading privacy and civil liberties organizations who have called on retailers to voluntarily abstain from the practice.

"Wal-Mart's item-level RFID tagging initiative is dangerous and irresponsible. And it's especially worrisome when you consider who Wal-Mart's business partners are," said Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN and co-author of the bestselling book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID."

She points to patent documents and promotional communications that she and co-author Liz McIntyre uncovered when doing research for their book.

"We discovered that Wal-mart's partners -- companies like NCR, IBM, Sensormatic, and Procter & Gamble -- have developed extensive plans to monitor and track people and exploit them commercially through RFID tags in the things they buy," Albrecht said.

"These companies are working with Wal-Mart to place RFID tags into all consumer products. This will make objects -- and the people wearing and carrying them -- remotely trackable. We have rock-solid evidence that they are already devising ways to exploit that potential," she added.

Albrecht cites NCR -- with millions of dollars of point-of-sale scanning equipment installed in Wal-Mart stores nationwide -- as just one example. According to its own promotional literature, NCR has plans for retail store shelves that will change prices depending upon who approaches, pan and tilt cameras that will follow individual shoppers for the duration of their shopping trips, and RFID readers embedded in the store environment to individually identify and track shoppers everywhere they go, from the parking lot to the snack bar.

"This is not mere conjecture. These companies have laid out plans for a nightmarish world of total surveillance, and they've described these plans in their own words. If item-level RFID is not stopped now, Wal-Mart stores could soon become retail zoos, with customers as the closely watched exhibits," warns Albrecht. "And other public spaces will soon follow."

Wal-Mart has repeatedly denied that item-level RFID tagging poses a privacy risk, though the company was clearly concerned that discussion of its RFID plans could hurt sales. A spokesperson issued a statement last week intended to pacify consumers. "Safety is always a top priority for us and customers should not have any concerns about shopping this weekend at our stores," she said.

Albrecht remained unconvinced, however. "If customers' safety and privacy were top priorities, Wal-Mart would confront its partners on their invasive plans and put an end to item-level tagging. But instead of thinking 'maybe we are deploying a technology that has real risks attached,' they seem to be asking themselves 'How can we get this past people?' "

CASPIAN Consumer Privacy //


At 11:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always hated walmart.
I heard about this advertising scheme on a another blog, that gives away free Apple ipods. It sounded like a scam, but after I googled it, it was legitmiate. You have to sign up for an offer from one the sponser companies. I did the free credit report one and canceled before the free trial time was up. That was it! I just recieved my new video ipod and it didn't cost me a thing! Here's the link if you're on as tight of a budget as I am.

At 5:46 PM , Anonymous Nico said...

I'm french and I'm interressed by what is happening in US because few years later it happends to us. I have not understood what is the justification given by companies to put RFID in products. And what is their interest to put RFID in scanner/printers? because people does not carry printer everyday!

At 9:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

- Bev

At 8:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is CASPIAN a good source for privacy issues?

At 2:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

nico, Google the film: "America: Freedom to Fascism" by Aaron Russo. The whole chipping idea is discussed at length. Also, search for RFID and CNN. There are IBM ads for the chip which make it look very appealing, but I'm concerned anyway.


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